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Judge Orders Base Closing Commission to Delay Recommendations

The states of Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Illinois have sued the Pentagon over its plan to shut down some Air National Guard facilities, deactivate certain units, and transfer aircraft among bases. The governors argue that the Defense Department lacks the authority to make such changes without their approval. State governors are normally the commanders in chief of National Guard units unless those units are activated for national service by the president.

The Connecticut court’s decision comes less than a week after a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled that the Pentagon had the right to shut down the Willow Grove, Pa. Air Guard facility but not to deactivate the Air National Guard Unit that serves there without the consent of the state’s governor. After the ruling, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) voted not to deactivate the unit but to transfer its aircraft to other bases.

In Tuesday’s decision, U.S. District Judge Alfred V. Covello went a step further than the Pennsylvania ruling, issuing a temporary restraining order that would bar the independent commission from forwarding a recommendation that agrees with a Defense Department proposal to move or retire 17 A-10 Thunderbolts from the 103rd Fighter Wing based at Bradley International Airport.

“This order assures that the BRAC Commission will not be sent to the president before the court rules on our lawsuit’s request for a hearing,” Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said. “Our reason for seeking this order was to assure that the court has a full opportunity to consider our arguments before Connecticut may be threatened with the very substantial irreparable harm of this realignment.”

Under federal law, the base closing commission was to have sent its recommendations on the closure or reorganization of around 100 major military installations to the president by Sept. 8. According to the law, the president could then ask for one revision of the commission’s work before deciding whether or not to approve the package in its entirety. If he approves the plan it would go to Congress for an up or down vote.

Judge Covello ordered a Sept. 7 hearing on the matter, but ordered the commission not to forward its recommendation on the Connecticut Guard aircraft until the matter is resolved.

A spokesman for the commission said it will wait for any ruling from the hearing on Sept. 7 and will ultimately abide by the judge’s orders.

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