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Base Closing Commission Submits Report Amid Legal Wrangling

The commission submitted its report amid continued legal disputes between the Pentagon and state governments over the proposed closing of Air National Guard bases and units.

Separate federal appeals courts Thursday and Friday ruled in favor of the federal government, which has met resistance from state governments over attempts to close or alter National Guard facilities.

Early Thursday, the Bush administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule a federal judge’s Wednesday decision that prevented the commission from forwarding a recommendation regarding the 103rd Fighter Wing of the Connecticut Air National Guard. The commission was prepared to recommend that aircraft be transferred from the unit to other facilities. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg declined to intervene in the case, which was making its way through the federal appeals process. Justice Ginsburg handles emergency appeals from the New York-based court.

“[T]his court should not short-circuit the normal review process absent a showing of irreparable harm stronger than that presented here,” Ginsburg said, according to the Washington Post.

After the Supreme Court declined to take up the case, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission removed the Connecticut recommendation from its report to the president.

But on Friday, a federal appeals judge hearing the Connecticut case decided in favor of the federal government, ruling that the Pentagon and commission has the right to reorganize National Guard units. The federal government also received a similar favorable appeals court ruling regarding Tennessee National Guard units.

BRAC Commission Chairman Anthony Principi said Thursday that the Connecticut recommendation would be reinserted into the report if the federal government prevailed in its appeal.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court also turned down last minute appeals by Illinois, New Jersey and Missouri to prevent the commission from submitting recommendations regarding National Guard units in their states.

Those states and others are suing the Defense Department over the proposed realignment of National Guard units, claiming the federal government cannot alter the facilities or units without consent from state governors, who normally serve as the commanders in chief of National Guard units. Those cases are still making their way through the federal courts.

Connecticut state officials, along with officials from other states, have said they still may appeal their original cases to the Supreme Court.

In its report to President Bush, the BRAC Commission said the Pentagon had overestimated the savings from this round of base closings by $30 billion. It also suggested the Defense Department may have erred in going ahead with the base closings before a larger review of national defense strategy is completed.

The commission said the ongoing Quadrennial Defense Review “may have better informed and assisted the commission in making its final decisions.”

After five months of hearings, the commission’s report agreed with 86 percent of the original Pentagon plan for closing and changing personnel levels at U.S. domestic military facilities.

President Bush must now accept or reject the report in its entirety or send it back for one revision. After the president’s decision the recommendations go to Congress, which must also accept or reject them as an entire package.

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