WASHINGTON — Justice Department officials will challenge a federal court ruling that deemed “don’t ask, don’t tell” unconstitutional, a move that further stalls gay rights groups’ efforts to repeal the controversial law.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs released a statement late Thursday saying the president had directed the Justice Department to appeal the decision “as it traditionally does when acts of Congress are challenged.”
Earlier this month, in response to a lawsuit from the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights group, challenging the law, California federal court Judge Virginia Phillips wrote that the ban on gays serving openly in the military “infringes the fundamental rights of United States service members in many ways.”
Phillips was considering filing an injunction barring the military from enforcing the 17-year-old ban on openly gay troops, but the Justice Department challenge argues such a move would be beyond the realm of the court and could have detrimental effects on national security.
Gay rights advocates this week urged the White House not to intervene and simply allow the court to overturn the law. On Friday, officials at the pro-repeal Palm Center blasted the decision instead to challenge the ruling.
“The president has the power to end this discriminatory mess by either not appealing Judge Phillips’ forthcoming decision or by issuing a stop-loss executive order to place a moratorium on these discharges,” said Christopher Neff, deputy executive director of the center. “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is now at an impasse that only the president can resolve.”
But repeal opponents have argued that an appeal was necessary both to uphold the rule of law and to keep “don’t ask, don’t tell” in effect.
Gibbs said the move “in no way diminishes the president’s firm commitment to achieve a legislative repeal of DADT” and promised officials are working with lawmakers to rewrite the law.
In May, the House passed language that would repeal the law as early as next spring, but earlier this week an identical proposal stalled in the Senate.
Democrats there said they likely will not bring up the issue again until after the November election, and experts have questioned whether such a controversial item can be passed in the lame-duck session.
Along with the California court case, advocates and opponents of a repeal were anxiously awaiting the Washington court case of former Air Force Reserve Maj. Margaret Witt, who was kicked out of the military under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law in 2004.
On Friday, a federal judge ordered Witt reinstated to the Air Force. The ruling could set a precedent for other servicemembers dismissed under the law.