Law schools, faculty file suit against government

By Robert Katz

A group of law schools and faculty members have sued the federal government over the possible withholding of federal funds, claiming that the government is blackmailing administrators into allowing the military to sneak around the University’s anti-discriminatory recruitment policies.

At the core of the dispute is the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that the military has long held on homosexuality. Many law faculty and law schools began to bar the military from recruiting on campus under their schools’ non-discrimination statutes, which they claim the military violates.

As a result, the government threatened to take away millions of dollars in federal funding to these law schools and their parent universities under a 1995 Amendment.

The congressional action that endangered the funds is the 1995 Solomon Amendment, which bars disbursement of money from the Departments of Defense, Transportation, Health and Human Services, Education, and some other federal agencies to any college or university that obstructs campus recruiting by the military.

“We believe it’s unconstitutional and violates the First Amendment for the government to withhold services based on your opinion of the government’s policies,” said Kent Greenfield, the law professor at Boston College who created Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights (FAIR) to support the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) in the lawsuit.

Michael Rooke-Ley, co-president of SALT, said that his organization, which represents about 900 law professors and 150 law schools, initiated the suit.

FAIR is an organization created to sue the government along with SALT, another one of the public plaintiffs and a preexisting organization, said Greenfield.

“Early in the summer, we started asking these institutions to join the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, which would act on behalf of its members, much like the Sierra Club, or the NRA. This arrangement allows our members to remain anonymous in their support of this lawsuit. We have promised anonymity to our members because they fear retaliation by the federal government,” said Greenfield.

Greenfield believes that law students have also been supportive of the actions of their respective faculty and administrators.

“Most of the good press has come from the student papers. I think that that is because they recognize that this is the government coming in, changing the core educational philosophy of these institutions, and then punishing them for not agreeing by fining them millions of dollars. It’s just as if the government took away your driver’s license for voting on the wrong side of Gore v. Bush,” Greenfield said.

For the military’s part, an official, who wished to remain anonymous said yesterday that he had absolutely no problem with the Solomon amendment, and also noted that there was a similar caveat in the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal government’s new educational initiative.

“Both of these require that the government’s ability to recruit in schools in exchange for the federal money to support these programs,” the official said.

Recruiters that discriminate against certain groups of law students have long been a problem at law schools. Decades ago, companies would say that they only wanted to hire male lawyers. In response, virtually every law school developed an anti-discrimination policy, according to Rooke-Ley.

Once this began to be applied to the military, who was still able to come on campus but not given the same access to the school’s staff, the military intensified its objections by threatening to remove federal funds with the Solomon amendment.

The coordinator of the U of C’s career services at the law school, Pontus Niklasson, said when asked about the effect of lacking the military on the campus, “The JAG lawyers are a tiny, tiny recruiter on our campus.…For them, it probably comes down to the principle on whether or not to come here. The symbolic nature is a big deal.”

Niklasson went on say that despite the military’s good hours, benefits, and pension plan, most of the graduates from the U of C law school end up at jobs with a much higher annual compensation.

Jon Ryan-Quinn, a fourth year in the College, said that he found the policy of allowing military recruiters on campus to be discriminatory. “I think it’s complicated because it is so entrenched in military tradition,” he said. “It is an outdated and discriminatory policy.”

However, not all students think that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy constitutes discrimination.

“That makes no sense. That’s point of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ said Scott Kelber, a second-year in the college. “If you don’t know, you can’t discriminate. It’s kind of hard for blind people to hate black people because they can’t tell.”

At many law schools across the country, the stipulations of the Solomon Amendment have been denounced as a cheap trick by the government. David Van Zandt, the dean of the Northwestern University School of Law wrote his students to say “[Despite their discriminatory policy,] refusing to permit the military from recruiting at the law school would subject the University as a whole to the loss of federal funding for student financial aid and other projects.”