WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court yesterday 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 effectively leaves it to the Obama administration to resolve the issue.
The court sided with the administration, which had urged the justices not to hear the appeal against the policy, even though President 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 for being gay. He was originally part of a group of 12 plaintiffs who were dismissed under the policy because of their orientation. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston rejected their suit last year.
He appealed to the high court on his own; most other plaintiffs asked the court not to step in, preferring to let the administration deal with the issue.
Their position was supported by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a nonprofit group that helps military personnel affected by "don't ask, don't tell."
The network said another case that reached the Court of Appeals, for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, was a better vehicle to take the issue before the high court.
In the Ninth 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.
"I think this decision is an absolute travesty of justice and I think every judge on this court should be ashamed of themselves," said Pietrangelo, who served six years in the Army, seven years in the Vermont National Guard, and fought in Iraq in 1991.
In opposing Supreme Court review of the Pietrangelo case, opponents of "don't ask, don't tell" have noted that Obama pledged during his presidential campaign to end the policy. They say he appears to be proceeding carefully toward ending the ban by first asking the Pentagon to study the implications and report its recommendations.
When President Bill Clinton tried to end the military's ban on service by gays and lesbians shortly after taking office, a firestorm erupted. This led to adoption of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in 1993.
Since then, its opponents say, times have changed, and the public is more supportive of letting gays serve in the military.
According to a July 2008 Washington Post/ABC News poll, 75 percent of Americans favor allowing gays to serve openly in the services, compared with 44 percent in 1993.
Some of Court's Other Actions
The high court also:
Ruled that the current Iraqi government cannot be held responsible for the actions of Saddam Hussein's regime. The court unanimously turned away lawsuits from Americans held in Iraq during the first Gulf War. It said a 2003 federal law gave Iraq back the immunity that was stripped when Hussein's government was designated a sponsor of terrorism.
Refused to hear an appeal from two former top executives of Tyco International - CEO L. Dennis Kozlowski and CFO Mark Swartz -
of their convictions for fraud and larceny involving more than $100 million in bonuses.
Declined to stop Pennsylvania officials from prosecuting a man whose computer was found to contain child pornography while it was at Circuit City being upgraded. Kenneth Sodomsky wanted the videos found on his computer suppressed. He had taken it to the store in Wyomissing, Berks County, to get a DVD burner installed.
A worker found questionable files and called police.
Will decide if a new bankruptcy law applies to lawyers, and if it does, if their free-speech rights are violated by the law's ban on people being told to incur more debt before filing for bankruptcy.
- Associated Press