Just days after the Obama Adminstration announced that it would appeal a historic victory in favor of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, the Administration is now appealing an equally historic victory over the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips refused demands by the Obama Administration that she rescind the national injunction against the policy. Now it has announced that, while it has had to suspend further discharges of gay personnel, it will appeal the decision to be able to resume such discharges.
Let us be clear on this point. The Administration is not required to appeal this decision. This is a discretionary decision. Moreover, the Administration did not have to oppose the injunction. It could have taken an appeal and allowed the injunction to stand. Once again, it is taking actions that appear in direct conflict with the President’s insistence that he opposes DADT. If DADT is discriminatory, why would the President be fighting to hard to resume discharges and preserve the policy? Would the Administration fight to preserve a racial or gender discriminatory policy? If the President believes that the Constitution does not protect against discrimination against gays, he should state so clearly. If he is opposed to the law, he also has wide discretion on when to enforce such laws. Only recently did the Defense Department impose a rule limiting, for example, the use of third-party snitches.
Any duty to defend the law was satisfied at the trial level, though it has been argued that the Justice Department should at least ask for a review of such a decision. I will note that when I had the Elizabeth Morgan law struck down before the D.C. Circuit, the Administration at that time decided not only not to seek review from the Supreme Court, it did not even ask for reconsideration before the D.C. Circuit or an en banc review. While members wanted to defend the law, the Administration invoked its discretion not to ask for review. (It had prevailed in the trial court so this was the first ruling striking down the law). In that case, the court had handed down a rare finding of a bill of attainder — something that many in Congress probably wanted reviewed due to its obvious importance in later challenges of federal laws.
More importantly, even if he feels a need to appeal as a general policy as part of his duty as the head of the Executive Branch, why oppose the injunction in the interim? Finally, the Administration argued in the Witt case that courts should not allow gay military personnel to show that they are not individually threats to good order and discipline. The Administration insisted that the courts should accept the military’s word that all openly gay and lesbian personnel are threats. It did not have to adopt such a position and could have assisted in a major advance (ultimately ordered by the Ninth Circuit over its objections) that required individual proof of these claims. Thus, if it really opposed DADT, why not adopt a moderate position that allowed a citizen to present evidence in her own defense that she was not a threat to good order and discipline. What the judge found in that case was that, once able to look at her as an individual, it was DADT that was the threat to good order and discipline in her unit.
The Obama Administration’s efforts to preserve DADT and to reverse gains on same-sex marriage occurs at the same time wen it has successfully sought a review by the Supreme Court of a lower court ruling against former Attorney General John Ashcroft. The Administration is arguing that Ashcroft had absolute immunity to use the material witness law to round up Muslim men and hold them without any intention of actually using them as witnesses. Now to keep you up to date, Obama has previously (1) barred investigations in torture and war crimes by the Bush Administration; (2) refused to prosecute people who tortured detainees; (3) refused to discipline attorneys responsible for the program; (4) refused to prosecute high level officials who ordered torture; (5) successfully sought to dismiss lawsuits seeking review of cases for torture victims; and now (6) seeks to bar any civil liability for officials in ordering abuses (including arbitrary detention and abusive confinement). I discussed this issue this week on Countdown. I must confess not just disappoint but disgust with this line of cases, as I did on the program.
What is fascinating is that the Democrats appear likely to lose significant seats this election and possibly control of the House. The Administration made a cynical calculation in these cases to oppose fundamental principles in favor of transient politics. The result is that they could not be more unpopular. If the President had simply tried to fight for principle, he would be in no worse a position in the polls but would have stood for something. For civil libertarians, President Obama now ranks with one of the worst presidents in our history and virtually indistinguishable in these cases from his predecessor. For all of those Democrats in Congress begging for support, I will simply add that only a handful of these members publicly denounced the President for these actions and policies. Even with these appeals, there has been virtual silence from Democratic leaders or members.