Notes From Babel

Explaining Obama’s DADT Strategy

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Many folks on the left are hissing at Obama for suggesting he may appeal the worldwide injunction of the ruling of judge Virginia Phillips out of the central district of California overturning the 17-year-old Don’t Ask Don’t Tell military policy.  (I leave aside for now the extraordinary feature of a district judge’s ruling in Riverside, California implementing global military policy.)

Seems to me that if you’re Obama, and you truly are committed to ending DADT, you’re not going to put up a “Mission Accomplished” banner upon the ruling of a lone district court judge.  You want it changed legislatively, or you want a Supreme Court decision, or at least a Ninth Circuit decision.  Here, you’ve got one judge, and then a Pentagon “voluntarily” backing down.  That leaves little to stop a future administration and future Pentagon from re-asserting its own right to pass on the constitutionality of the law and to start enforcing DADT, or something substantially similar.  Obama is going for the big win here, rather than cashing in on a piddling district court ruling.

Perhaps the real reason the left is upset with Obama is because they believe he’s being impractical, and that there is no bigger victory on the horizon.  This NPR piece acknowledges how DADT opponents are scratching and clawing their way to a win on this issue:

Gay rights advocates say they worry they lost a crucial opportunity to change the law when Senate Republicans opposed the defense bill earlier this month because of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal provision.

If Democrats lose seats in the upcoming elections, repealing the ban could prove even more difficult — if not impossible — next year.

Woods said the administration should be seizing the opportunity to let a judge do what politics has been unable to do.

This same sort of reflexive thinking occurred when the left took such glee in the fact that apparently no one has standing to appeal the Perry decision.  Now that both Governor Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown have opted not to enforce the California Constitution and appeal the Perry ruling, the entire course of the appeals process is going to be largely procedural, and might never reach the constitutional question underlying Prop 8 and same-sex marriage.  The point, for same-sex marriage advocates, is that if no one has standing to appeal, the inescapable implication is there was no live “case or controversy” in the district court to begin with, and the whole ruling unravels.

You can’t shape national policy through one-off district court rulings.  For the political camp that staked its claim pushing its agenda through the courts, this should not be so hard to understand.

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Written by Tim Kowal

October 18, 2010 at 8:21 am

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