Judge Reinstates Air Force Major Discharged Under DADT

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A federal judge ruled today that an Air Force major discharged in 2003 under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell should be reinstated.

Judge Ronald Leighton ruled that former Maj. Margaret Witt was discharged unconstitutionally under the policy because the government hadn’t shown that her firing benefited the military.Witt, a decorated reservist flight nurse, was suspended from the Air Force in 2004, after 17 years of service, and eventually discharged in October 2007.

In April 2006, during the discharge process, she sued to be reinstated, according to news reports. Leighton then dismissed her case, saying her rights had not been violated.

She appealed. In 2008, the Ninth District Court of Appeals ruled that the military can only fire a servicemember under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, if firing them will further the military’s interests. The court sent the suit back to Leighton.

Today, Leighton ruled that Witt’s firing was unconstitutional.

“The application of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ to Major Margaret Witt does not significantly further the government’s interest in promoting military readiness, unit morale and cohesion,” he wrote in his ruling. “Her discharge from the Air Force Reserves violated her substantive due process rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. She should be restored to her position as a Flight Nurse with the 446th AES as soon as is practicable, subject to meeting applicable regulations touching upon qualifications necessary for continued service.”

He also said that her discharge hurt her unit.

“The evidence before the Court is that Major Margaret Witt was an exemplary officer. She was an effective leader, a caring mentor, a skilled clinician, and an integral member of an effective team. Her loss within the squadron resulted in a diminution of the unit’s ability to carry out its mission,” Leighton wrote. “Good flight nurses are hard to find.”

Leighton did not seek an injunction against the policy at large, as U.S. District Judge Virginia Philips did when she ruled DADT unconstitutional in a separate case two weeks ago. The Justice Department yesterday objected to that injunction.

Earlier this week, Senate Republicans managed to block the beginning of debate on the defense authorization bill, which funds the military, partly due to its inclusion of DADT repeal.

The military, which is undertaking a review of repeal, says it is a matter of “when,” not “if.”

Read the full Witt ruling:

Maj. Margaret Witt v. US Air Force

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