Justice Department Did NOT Step In As BLAG Pulls Out
July 19th, 2013
A Report that the Justice Department filed a brief opposing a request by gay veterans and their spouses for judgment in their favor their challenge to veterans’ benefits statutes led to some confusion as to what the Justice Department’s objections really were. One interpretation was that the Justice Department was trying to take up the work of the GOP-controlled House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) after BLAG announced that they would drop their efforts to prevent the veterans spousal and family benefits from being extended to married same-sex couples. But according to the actual filing by the Justice Department:
In light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor, striking down Section 3 of DOMA, the Department of Defense will now construe the definitional provisions of “spouse” in Titles 10and 32 to include same-sex spouses See Extending Benefits to Same-Sex Domestic Partners of Military Members, Memorandum for Secretaries of the Military Departments, Feb. 11, 2013, available at http://www.defense.gov/news/Same-SexBenefitsMemo.pdf (“In the event that the Defense of Marriage Act is no longer applicable to the Department of Defense, it will be the policy of the Department to construe the words ‘spouse’ and ‘marriage’ without regard to sexualorientation, and married couples, irrespective of sexual orientation, and their dependents, will begranted full military benefits.”). The Department of Defense intends to expeditiously make available benefits provided under Titles 10 and 32 to the same-sex spouses of servicemembers. To that end, the Department of Defense is currently working to revamp its Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (“DEERS”), a computerized database of military sponsors, families and others who are entitled to various military benefits. Indeed, the central claim in the Complaint is Plaintiffs’ inability to enroll in DEERS, which in turn has prevented Plaintiffs fromfiling claims for military benefits.
Because the Supreme Court has already struck down Section 3 of DOMA in Windsor, there is no need for this Court to grant any declaratory relief with respect to Section 3 of DOMA.There is also no need for this Court to grant declaratory or injunctive relief with respect to the definitional provisions of Titles 10 and 32. As noted above, the government will apply these provisions in light of Windsor to include same-sex spouses. There is no longer any dispute with respect to Defendants’ obligations to process and consider Plaintiffs’ claims for military benefits because the government agrees that it needs to do so, and is working to do so as it implements the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor. Given the government’s agreement, there is no longer any case or controversy with respect to Plaintiffs’ Titles 10 and 32 claims.
The Justice Department then went on to argue that, with DOMA3 out of the way and the Defense Department moving to implement the Windsor decision, the court had no jurisdiction on procedural grounds. BLAG was seeking to block veterans spouses from accessing veterans benefits altogether, which is precisely the opposite of what this motion says.