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Originally published Tuesday, June 9, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Justices let military policy on gays stand

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a constitutional challenge to the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy banning openly...

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday 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 could effectively leave it to the Obama administration to resolve the long-controversial issue.

The court sided with the Obama administration, which had urged the justices not to hear the appeal against the policy, even though 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 from the military for being gay. He was originally part of a group of 12 plaintiffs who were dismissed under the policy because of their sexual orientation. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in Boston rejected their suit last year.

Pietrangelo appealed to the Supreme Court on his own. But Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a nonprofit group that helps military personnel affected by "don't ask, don't tell," said another case that reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco was a better vehicle to bring the issue before the Supreme Court.

In that case, former Air Force Maj. Margaret Witt, a decorated flight nurse stationed at McChord Air Force Base, was allowed to pursue her lawsuit over her dismissal. Witt, 43, was involved with a civilian woman who lived in Spokane. The major said she never had sexual relations while on duty or on any military base.

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.

The administration did not appeal the 9th Circuit ruling in the Witt case, and Witt's lawsuit is ongoing.

When President Clinton initially tried to end the military's ban on service by gays and lesbians shortly after taking office, a firestorm of criticism erupted. This led to adoption of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in 1993.

According to a July 2008 Washington Post/ABC News poll, 75 percent of Americans favor allowing gays to serve openly in the armed services, compared with 44 percent in 1993.

The Court also

Ruled unanimously that Americans cannot sue the current Iraqi government in U.S. courts for acts by the regime of Saddam Hussein, who was driven from power by U.S. forces in 2003. The ruling rejected lawsuits by plaintiffs including CBS News correspondent Bob Simon and cameraman Roberto Alvarez, who were held by the Iraqis for more than a month in early 1991 during the Persian Gulf War. Although foreign governments are usually immune from lawsuits in U.S. courts, federal law allows suits to go forward against state sponsors of terrorism, a description that the United States applied to the Saddam regime. But the Supreme Court agreed with the current Iraqi government's argument that the country regained its immunity when the 2003 U.S. invasion removed Saddam from power.

Ruled that judges must step aside from cases when large campaign contributions from interested parties create the appearance of bias. The high court on a 5-4 vote sent back to the West Virginia Supreme Court a case where a judge remained involved in a lawsuit filed against the company of the most generous supporter of his election.

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Turned down an appeal from Indian tribes seeking to block expansion of an Arizona ski resort on a mountain they consider sacred.

Refused to hear a Marine's lawsuit blaming the government's dumping of toxic chemicals at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina for his son's illnesses.

Will not consider making changes to the sentence of a radical environmentalist linked to multiple arsons across the West. Kendall Tankersley was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison, after pleading guilty to arson and attempted arson at U.S. Forest Industries in Medford in December 1998.

Won't stop Pennsylvania officials from prosecuting a man whose computer was found to contain child pornography while it was at Circuit City being upgraded.

Additional material from The Associated Press

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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