April 11, 2012 | by Chris Johnson
Plaintiffs seek to expedite gay troops’ case against DOMA

SLDN advocates rally in favor of 'Don't Ask' repeal late in 2010 prior to the vote. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Attorneys representing gay troops in a lawsuit contesting the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act are asking the court to impose an earlier deadline for House Republicans to intervene in the case.

In a motion dated April 11, plaintiffs ask the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts to shorten the deadline to April 20 for the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group to respond to the case. As it stands, the current deadline for House Republicans to intervene is April 28.

“To help expedite the case and narrow the issues for trial, plaintiffs ask that the court set an April 20, 2012 deadline for potential intervenors to seek intervention in this case,” the motion states.

The lawsuit, McLaughlin v. United States, was filed by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network before the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts in October on behalf of gay troops seeking benefits for their spouses. Chadbourne & Parke LLP is serving as pro-bono counsel in the case.

Plaintiffs say they are seeking an earlier deadline in the case because they want to resolve issues of intervention before a decision is reached in the DOMA cases pending before the First Circuit Court of Appeals. Oral arguments took place in those cases April 4.

“The plaintiffs hope that this case will move quickly once the First Circuit rules in those cases,” the motion states. “Accordingly, plaintiffs would like the court to set an earlier deadline for any third-parties to intervene, so that any issues concerning whether intervention should be permitted can be addressed and decided prior to the First Circuit’s decision in Massachusetts and Gill.”

David McKean, SLDN’s legal director, said the filing was made to speed up the process.

“This filing today was made in order to help expedite the case and resolve issues surrounding BLAG’s intervention sooner rather than later,” McKean said.

Attorneys representing BLAG didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the request to shorten the deadline.

The Obama administration last year stopped defending DOMA in court, but the House, under the direction of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) took up defense of the law after BLAG voted on a 3-2 party line basis to defend the statute in the administration’s stead. Boehner’s attorneys are expected to intervene in the McLaughlin case as they’ve done with other cases.

Christopher Man, counsel at Chadbourne & Parke LLC, told the Blade on March 10 BLAG was likely to intervene soon in the lawsuit, but that intervention has yet to take place. According to the motion, attorneys for BLAG advised plaintiffs on March 7 that intervention would take place in the “next day or so.”

In a letter dated Feb. 17, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder notified Congress the administration won’t defend other statutes barring spousal benefits from flowing to gay troops, such as Title 38, in addition to DOMA. The letter created the opportunity for Boehner’s attorney to respond to the case.

The parties involved in the case previously agreed to move the deadline from intervention from Feb. 28 to April 28. But that agreement was made before oral arguments took place in the two DOMA cases before the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

The McLaughlin case isn’t the only pending litigation against DOMA in which the plaintiffs are gay troops seeking spousal benefits. On Feb. 1, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit in a California federal court on behalf of Tracey Cooper-Harris, a lesbian veteran seeking benefits for her spouse. Boehner’s attorneys intervened last month against plaintiffs in the case.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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