The late, but great, news this fine Friday afternoon is the decision of Western District of Washington (WDWA) Judge Ronald Leighton in the case of Air Force Major Margaret Witt. Witt has been an Air Force reserve flight and operating room nurse since 1987 and was suspended from duty in 2004, just short of retirement, upon her base commanders being informed by an off base nosy neighbor that she was a lesbian.
A federal judge ruled Friday that a decorated flight nurse discharged from the Air Force for being gay should be given her job back as soon as possible in the latest legal setback to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton came in a closely watched case as a tense debate has been playing out over the policy. Senate Republicans blocked an effort to lift the ban this week, but two federal judges have ruled against the policy in recent weeks.
Maj. Margaret Witt was discharged under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and sued to get her job back. A judge in 2006 rejected Witt’s claims that the Air Force violated her rights when it fired her. An appeals court panel overruled him two years later, leaving it to Leighton to determine whether her firing met that standard.
This is indeed a wonderful decision, and one based upon the elevated level of scrutiny that is now clearly the standard in Federal court consideration of the rights based on sexual preference. The full text of the court’s decision is here. The critical language from the decision setting and clearing the table is as follows:
Plaintiff commenced this action by filing a Complaint on April 12, 2006. On July 26, 2006, this Court granted the government’s motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), concluding that the regulation was subject to rational basis scrutiny, and that the evidentiary hearings held, and factual findings adopted, by Congress provided a sufficient foundation to support the regulation. Plaintiff timely appealed.
The Ninth Circuit agreed with plaintiff. It held that Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 123 S. Ct. 2472 (2003) effectively overruled previous cases wherein the Ninth Circuit had applied rational basis to DADT and predecessor policies. It held that something more than traditional rational basis review was required. Witt v. Department of the Air Force, 527 F.3d 806, 813 (9th Cir. 2008). The Circuit
Court vacated the judgment and remanded to the District Court the plaintiff’s substantive and procedural due process claims. It affirmed this Court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s equal protection claim. On remand, this Court was directed to determine whether the specific application of DADT to Major Witt significantly furthers the government’s interest, and whether less intrusive means would substantially achieve the government’s interest. Witt, 527 F.3d at 821.
Now comes the interesting part of the opinion (and case as argued by the government) and it ties in directly with the Log Cabin Republicans v. USA DOD decision recently rendered in the Central District of California (I will return to that in a bit). Specifically, the 9th Circuit based at least partially upon briefing in the alternative by the government (i.e arguing multiple positions), granted the government’s argument that, at a minimum, they were at least entitled to argue that homosexuals were bad for Read more