Connecticut base wins reprieve, but it’s still in jeopardy

Recommendations survive court fights

WASHINGTON – The base closing commission submitted its recommendations to the White House on Thursday night after withdrawing proposed changes at an Air National Guard base in Connecticut.

What was to have been a routine paperwork delivery of those proposals to President Bush was threatened by a cross-country legal fight.

Judges in Connecticut and Tennessee blocked the panel from recommending changes at local Air National Guard bases. The Tennessee decision was overruled by an appeals court Thursday afternoon, but the Connecticut injunction stood.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg rejected the Bush administration’s request for intervention in the Connecticut case.

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which was bound by law to send its report to the president by Thursday, withdrew the portion of the report recommending the realignment of Connecticut’s 103rd Fighter Wing. The plan would have moved jets from Connecticut’s Bradley Air National Guard base to Massachusetts.

The commission said it would restore the recommendation if the Connecticut court’s injunction “is later vacated, reversed, stayed or otherwise withdrawn.”

Separately, Illinois, Missouri and New Jersey lost emergency Supreme Court appeals intended to stop the commission from sending the report to the president. Facilities in those states are among hundreds targeted by the base-closing panel for closure or consolidation in the first round of base closings in a decade.

Solicitor General Paul Clement, the administration’s Supreme Court attorney, said the court should safeguard the work of the president and a commission that has spent five months on a plan to restructure domestic military bases to save billions of dollars.

The president has pledged to pass the commission’s final report on to Congress without changes. Copies of the report will be delivered Friday morning to Congress and the Defense Department. Congress will then have 45 days to block it, although lawmakers have never rejected reports in previous base-closing rounds.

Ginsburg, a Clinton appointee, said a federal appeals court in New York was dealing with the Connecticut case and “this court should not short-circuit the normal review process absent a showing of irreparable harm stronger than that presented here.” Ginsburg handles appeals from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Supreme Court dealt with a flurry of paperwork Thursday, a day after the funeral for Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. Lawyers representing Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., and other New Jersey officials said they wanted a reprieve to appeal the decision to close Fort Monmouth.

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon asked the high court to protect an Air National Guard unit in St. Louis, and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich challenged plans to move National Guard fighter jets.

Clement had argued for the government that a Connecticut judge was out of line Wednesday in barring the commission from recommending changes at an Air National Guard base in that state.

In decisions made last month, the base closure panel largely endorsed Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s vision but chose to keep open several major bases against Pentagon wishes and crafted its own restructuring of Air National Guard forces.

Overall, the panel said in a statement late Thursday that it had approved about 86 percent of what the Pentagon had recommended. That’s on par with previous years, when commissions changed only about 15 percent of what the Pentagon proposed.

In other base closing lawsuits, a Massachusetts judge on Thursday rejected the state’s efforts to protect the Otis Air National Guard Base. Like several other states, Massachusetts argued that changes to their National Guard units or bases must be approved by governors. Washington state also has filed a lawsuit.

The Bush administration contends the panel’s recommendations are not reviewable by courts.

But in Connecticut, U.S. District Judge Alfred V. Covello said the governor would suffer significant hardship if the state’s lawsuit over the Bradley Air National Guard Base wasn’t considered immediately. In Tennessee, U.S. District Judge Robert Echols temporarily barred the commission from recommending relocation of the Nashville-based 118th Airlift Wing. A federal appeals court overturned his injunction.

Associated Press writers Liz Sidoti and Donna De La Cruz contributed to this report.

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