FEDERAL JUDGE RULES DADT UNCONSTITUTIONAL…. We occasionally get helpful reminders about the importance of the federal courts as a last refuge when other political institutions come up short. When it comes to equal rights, just this summer, it was the courts that rejected a ban on marriage equality, rejected the Defense of Marriage Act, and yesterday, rejected the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that prohibits American servicemen and women from serving openly in the military.

U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips said the government’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is a violation of due process and First Amendment rights. Instead of being necessary for military readiness, she said, the policy has a “direct and deleterious effect” on the armed services.

Citing testimony at a two-week trial in July by experts and former service members, Phillips wrote: “All of these examples demonstrate that the act’s restrictions on speech not only are broader than reasonably necessary to protect the government’s substantial interests, but also actually serve to impede military readiness and unit cohesion rather than further these goals.”

“The don’t ask, don’t tell act infringes the fundamental rights of United States service members in many ways,” Phillips added. “In order to justify the encroachment on these rights, defendants faced the burden at trial of showing the don’t ask, don’t tell act was necessary to significantly further the government’s important interests in military readiness and unit cohesion. Defendants failed to meet that burden.”

So, what happens now? Alas, the ruling does not automatically mark the end of the law. As the NYT explained, “It will not change the policy right away; the judge called for the plaintiffs to submit a proposed injunction limiting the law by Sept. 16th. The defendants will submit their objections to the plan a week after that. Any decision would probably be stayed pending appeals.”

Regardless, it’s a heartening development. The DADT policy, while considered a compromise move when crafted nearly 20 years ago, is an embarrassment today. The notion that the United States military, in the 21st century and in the midst of two wars, would kick out able-bodied, well-trained, patriotic volunteers, based solely on their reluctance to lie about who they are, is indefensible.

I’d just add that, as glad as I am to hear of this decision, it would be even more encouraging if it were rendered moot by congressional approval of scrapping the DADT policy altogether. As you’ll likely recall, the House already approved a Pentagon spending bill that includes DADT repeal as a provision. The appropriations bill stalled in the Senate in the face of Republican opposition and delaying tactics.

Roll Call reported last weekend, however, that Senate Democrats are “finally ready to press ahead” on the issue. The biggest obstacle has been Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), but now that he’s won his GOP primary and his re-election is all but assured, Dems believe he might be willing to give up on his knee-jerk obstructionism.

The spending bill may come up “as soon as Sept. 20,” which would in turn affect the appeals process on the California case decided yesterday.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.