The Obama administration on Wednesday continued its defense of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in court by filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court asking for continued enforcement of the military’s gay ban while an appellate court considers its constitutionality.
In the document, Acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Kumar Katyal argues in favor of a U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ stay against an injunction that would have prohibited enforcement of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Katyal argues that the stay is necessary because the injunction would cause “the government the kind of irreparable injury that routinely forms the basis for a stay pending appeal.”
“This case does not present the sort of exceptional circumstances that would warrant interference with an interim order of the court of appeals,” Katyal writes. “That court’s stay simply preserves the status quo pending its consideration of the merits of this facial challenge to a federal statute governing military affairs that has been in force for 17 years.”
The injunction was issued last month by U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips after she ruled “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” violated gay service members freedom of speech and due process rights under the U.S. Constitution.
Among other reasons for maintaining the stay, Katyal argues that Log Cabin fails to show reasonable probability that the Supreme Court would take up the case if the Ninth Circuit reverses Phillips’ decision. Additionally, Katyal argues that the injunction would “short-circuit the Executive Branch’s review process” and the work of Pentagon in developing a plan to implement repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“Without sufficient time for such training and guidance, an immediate court-ordered repeal of the statute would risk disruption to military commanders and service members as they carry out their missions, especially in zones of active combat,” Katyal writes.
Last week, lawyers representing Log Cabin Republicans, which filed the litigation against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2004, asked the Supreme Court to lift the Ninth Circuit’s stay on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” injunction. The Ninth Circuit had granted the stay after the Justice Department asked for the order and appealed a district court’s decision against the law to the appellate court.
The decision on whether to vacate the stay is now before U.S. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who’s the circuit justice for the Ninth Circuit. Whether the entire Supreme Court will be involved in the decision on vacating the order is up to Kennedy. The justice may decide for himself of refer the application to his colleagues on the bench.
A source familiar with the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity, estimated that the Supreme Court would make a decision on whether or not to vacate the stay in a week.
Doug NeJaine, who’s gay and a law professor at Loyola Law School, predicted that the Supreme Court would side in favor of the U.S. government and allow the stay to continue.
“Preserving the status quo — both in affirming the Ninth Circuit and maintaining the stay pending litigation on the merits — is the least controversial thing to do,” NeJaime said. “Plus, I doubt that the Court wants to get involved in the merits of the policy at this point, which is what analyzing the stay question (and particularly the likelihood of success on the merits prong) would require.”
Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign”s vice president of communications, said Log Cabin “did the right thing” by asking the Supreme Court to lift the stay on the injunction against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and said the organization and its attorneys “have a responsibility to use every tool in their legal arsenal.”
“At the very least, it continues to bring attention to this issue and puts the Justice Department under enormous pressure if they choose to continue defending a law that has [now] been ruled unconstitutional,” Sainz said.
Download a copy of the Justice Department’s brief to the Supreme Court here.