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JAGS Not Welcome

America's top law schools try to figure out a way around the Solomon Amendment.

12:00 AM, Sep 27, 2005 • By SCOTT W. JOHNSON
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WHEN NAVY JUDGE ADVOCATE GENERAL RECRUITER Brian Whitaker visited Yale Law School in October 2003 to meet with students interested in serving as Navy lawyers, his reaction must have been something like that of the man who was tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail; if it weren't for the honor of the thing, he'd probably rather have passed on it. Virtually all Yale law students had signed a petition vowing that they would not meet with Whitaker or other JAG recruiters. The petition was publicly displayed inside the law school as part of a protest display that included black and camouflage wall hangings. The one law student scheduled to meet with Whitaker cancelled the interview.

The ostensible cause of the consternation occasioned by Whitaker's visit was the military's compliance with the federal "don't ask/don't tell" law on homosexual conduct in the armed forces. Law schools across the country have hindered military recruiters from meeting with law students because the military's adherence to the "don't ask/don't tell" law violates nondiscrimination policies enforced by the schools against on-campus recruiters.

Whitaker's putative right to visit Yale Law School despite its nondiscrimination policy was attributable solely to the Bush administration's enforcement of Solomon Amendment requiring federally-funded universities to open their doors to military recruiters at the risk of losing federal funds. After 9/11 the Defense Department began to threaten enforcement of the amendment, and law schools began to comply. At Yale, for example, the law school has waived its nondiscrimination policy in order to preserve the university's annual $350 million in federal funding only since the fall of 2002. Then-law school Dean Anthony Kronman explained:

We would never put at risk the overwhelmingly large financial interests of the University in federal funding. We have a point of principle to defend, but we will not defend this--at the expense of programs vital to the University and the world at large.

Dean Kronman paid a backhanded tribute to the "money talks" impetus behind the Solomon Amendment. Call it the Yale Doctrine: Taking your money for the good of the world.

LAW SCHOOLS have not confined their resistance to the Solomon Amendment to the kind of inhospitable welcome extended to Brian Whitaker. The month before Whitaker's visit, several unidentified law schools and law students filed a lawsuit--FAIR v. Rumsfeld--in New Jersey federal district court seeking to have the Solomon Amendment declared unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds. According to the FAIR plaintiffs, the Solomon Amendment violates their academic and associational freedoms.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, the legal merits of the FAIR lawsuit seemed to rival those of obesity lawsuits brought by overweight consumers against fast food outlets. A divided panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held in favor of the plaintiffs, however, finding it likely that the Solomon Amendment unconstitutionally infringed the law school's First Amendment rights. The case now awaits a hearing by the Supreme Court this December.

THE NONDISCRIMINATION POLICIES enforced by many law schools against the military are themselves attributable to the requirements of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS). Mark Tushnet is Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Constitutional Law at the Georgetown University Law Center and was president of the AALS in 2004; he is one of the most prominent left-wing law professors in the country. But before the filing of the FAIR lawsuit, Tushnet and other AALS board members voted unanimously not to initiate or join litigation against the Solomon Amendment. In an interesting memorandum to AALS members, Tushnet explored some of the difficulties such litigation would entail.

Among the reasons Tushnet advanced to support his vote is the fact that the nondiscrimination policies adopted by the law schools were themselves required by the AALS, the organization that serves as legal education's principal representative to the federal government: