Judge orders halt to 'Don't ask, don't tell'

U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips on Tuesday barred the enforcement of the "Don't ask, don't tell" law. Phillips ordered the Department of Defense to halt investigations and discharges of military members stemming from the Clinton-era law.

President Obama has committed to scrapping the ban, and the Pentagon is now reviewing the effect a repeal would have on the troops. Meanwhile, the House has successfully included legislation to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell” in the 2011 defense authorization bill, but the Senate has yet to act on that legislation. 

Gay-rights activists cheered the federal judge's injunction.

"This order from Judge Phillips is another historic and courageous step in the right direction, a step that Congress has been noticeably slow in taking," said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also hailed the decision, saying in a message on Twitter that it was a further "affirmation" that constitutional rights are being denied in the policy. Separately, a spokesman for Pelosi said the Speaker wants the administration to put a moratorium on all dismissals under "Don't ask, don't tell" until the Senate considers legislation repealing the policy.

Twenty-one Democratic senators urged Attorney General Eric Holder to not appeal the judge's decision and let the injunction stand. 

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), two sponsors of legislation to repeal "Don't ask, don't tell," organized the letter. 

"Not appealing the decision would allow Congress to act to repeal the unconstitutional law, which harms our national security," the letter states.  "An appeal of the recent federal court decision – and of the injunction issued today – could set back those congressional efforts."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Tuesday said he could not comment on a possible appeal or the court's decision because it happened just before the daily briefing began.

Gibbs did repeat that the president is committed to working with Congress to repeal the "unfair" law.

The Senate in September voted not to proceed to a debate on the bill that includes the repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell." Senate Democrats are expected to try to move to the issue again in the lame-duck session after the November election.

If an appeal is brought, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit could reverse the judge's decision.

Nicholson, however, urged the Appeals Court not to take that step.

“If the appellate court wishes to put itself on the right side of history, however, it will allow this sound and long-overdue decision to remain in effect,” Nicholson said in a statement.

The case that won the nationwide injunction is Log Cabin Republicans v. United States of America. The federal judge last month issued a final ruling that "Don't ask, don't tell" was unconstitutional. Nicholson is the sole named veteran plaintiff in the case together with the Log Cabin Republicans.

—Sam Youngman contributed to this story.