Judge Orders Pentagon To End 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

A federal judge has issued an injunction instructing the Department of Defense to stop enforcing "don't ask, don't tell," the law that bars gays from serving openly in the military. Melissa Block talks to NPR's Rachel Martin for the latest.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Today, a federal judge in California ordered a stop to the military's controversial Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy effective immediately. Judge Virginia Phillips issued the injunction which bars the Pentagon from enforcing the law, which bans service members who are openly gay.

NPR's national security correspondent Rachel Martin joins us now. And, Rachel, tells us more about what Judge Phillips said in her ruling today.

RACHEL MARTIN: Well, Melissa, I'll just read explicitly from the ruling.

Judge Phillips, today, ruled that the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, quote, "infringes the fundamental rights of service members and violates their right to due process and freedom of speech," and she called for an immediate end to the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy worldwide.

Now, last month, this same judge ruled that the policy is unequivocally unconstitutional. And so, for the past couple weeks, both sides in this case have been arguing about whether the judge should issue an injunction or not.

Today, she sided again with the Log Cabin Republicans, that's the gay rights group that filed the suit in the first place. And in doing so, she rejected several requests by the Department of Justice to issue a stay, that would have prevented the injunction from going into effect immediately. Now, she's issued that injunction.

BLOCK: And, Rachel, a lot of questions about jurisdiction here, whether a federal court judge has the authority to ban the entire military from enforcing Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

MARTIN: Well, this has been a really criticism of this court, that a lower level court doesn't necessarily have the jurisdiction to issue such a broad policy. Judge Phillips addressed that criticism directly. In her ruling, she said that because the policy is unconstitutional, or so she ruled, that the remedy, she said, should be as, quote, "broad as possible," thus the worldwide ban on the policy.

BLOCK: And this case is not over, clearly. Rachel, what happens now?

MARTIN: Well, there has been a small response yet. The Department of Defense -the Pentagon has issued a brief statement saying that they are studying the ruling, that they are consulting the Department of Justice.

And the implications really are unclear at this point. The focus is now on the Justice Department. The government has 60 days to appeal this ruling. Then, it would go to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. But it's worth pointing out, Melissa, that the Obama administration has said that it wants to pursue a legislative end to this policy. This ruling complicates things for the administration. They think that the change should happen in Congress.

There's also pressure from the Pentagon, which is urging Congress to wait on this whole issue until they have finished their own review. A review that is trying to gauge what the implications of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell would be, and that review is not scheduled to be completed until December.

BLOCK: In the meantime, Rachel, gay rights groups, Log Cabin Republicans, saying this is a sweeping victory for our side.

MARTIN: They are. They're hailing this is a major victory. At the same time, Melissa, they're not urging service members to come out of the closet. They say we're expecting an appeal, and they project that this could go all the way to the Supreme Court.

BLOCK: Okay, Rachel, thanks so much.

MARTIN: You're welcome.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Rachel Martin.

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