WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a constitutional challenge to the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning openly gay people from serving in the U.S. military, a move that could effectively leave it to the Obama administration to resolve the long-controversial issue.
The Supreme Court sided with the Obama administration, which had urged the justices not to hear the appeal against the policy, even though President Barack Obama is on record as opposing it. The court thus spared the administration from having to defend in court a policy that the president eventually wants to abolish pending a review by the Pentagon.
The case, Pietrangelo v. Gates, was filed by James Pietrangelo, a former Army captain who was discharged from the military for being gay. He was originally part of a group of 12 plaintiffs who were dismissed under the policy because of their sexual orientation. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in Boston rejected their suit last year.
Pietrangelo appealed to the Supreme Court on his own, while most of the other plaintiffs asked the court not to review the case, preferring to allow the administration to deal with the issue.
Their position was supported by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a nonprofit group that helps military personnel affected by “don’t ask, don’t tell.” It said another case that reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco was a better vehicle to bring the issue before the Supreme Court.
In the 9th Circuit case, former Air Force Maj. Margaret Witt, a decorated flight nurse, was allowed to pursue her lawsuit over her dismissal. The appeals court did not declare the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy unconstitutional but said the Air Force must prove that discharging her advanced its goals of troop readiness and unit cohesion. The court took into consideration a 2003 Supreme Court decision that struck down bans on sodomy in Texas and a dozen other states, ruling that consenting adults have a right to engage in private homosexual conduct.