NEWS

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March 7, 2006

High Court upholds military’s right to recruit on campuses

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that colleges and universities that accept federal funding must allow military recruitment on their campus. The unanimous 8-0 decision to uphold the Solomon Amendment ended a decade-long lawsuit started by law schools and law professors nationwide, which argued that being forced to associate with military recruiters violated their First Amendment rights. The schools specifically objected to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for homosexual recruits.

“This was not a surprising decision,” said Saul Levmore, dean of the U of C Law School. “We have a history of government which puts conditions on the money it gives out.”

The lawsuit, which started in 1996 and was heard on December 6, 2005, was instigated by the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights (FAIR), a coalition of law schools and professors that formed to sue the Department of Defense.

The Association of American Law Schools (AALS), to which many law schools belong, has historically been a non-discriminatory group towards gays and lesbians. The military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, however, forbids homosexuals from serving openly in their ranks.

Yesterday’s decision overturned a previous ruling in favor of FAIR by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. As a result, Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. did not take part in yesterday’s ruling, as he was confirmed to the Supreme Court after this case was heard.

In Rumsfeld v. FAIR, the group claimed that the Solomon Amendment violates First Amendment rights by not only prohibiting FAIR’s expression to oppose discrimination in the military, but also forcing the group to associate with the military. At the December 6 hearing, justices expressed concern about equating the military recruiting with expression protected under the First Amendment.

“The argument FAIR was making extremely weak, extending the First Amendment doctrine beyond where it is,” said Dennis Hutchinson, lecturer at the Law School and associate dean in the College, who also found the yesterday’s ruling unsurprising.

The purpose of the Solomon Amendment is to give military recruiters the same access to students as that of other recruiters on college campuses. The amendment states that the only exception is an institution that has a longstanding policy of pacifism based on historical religious affiliation.

If an institution or any subdivision of the institution violates the amendment’s provisions, it stands to lose federal government grants and contract. The penalty, however, does not include funding for student financial aid.

In September 2005, the University of Chicago joined Columbia University, New York University, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University in filing an amicus-—friend of the court—brief in opposition of the Solomon Amendment. While the amendment does not pertain to protests against military recruiters, it gives recruiters the right to be on campus.

On the ruling today, Provost of the College Richard Saller said that he was “disappointed.”

“Tying federal funding to military recruitment is terrible precedent,” said Saller of why the University chose to file the September 2005 amicus brief.

Although a private institution, the University receives hundreds of millions of federal funding and therefore falls under the Solomon Amendment’s jurisdiction. Saller said the University is currently seeking legal counsel in its reaction to the ruling.

While the U of C Law School receives no federal funding, Levmore said the school did not support the Solomon Amendment and its implications for college campuses.

“If you don’t like the conditions, don’t take the money,” he said.

Outlaw, a student group in the Law School dedicated to LGBT issues, wrote an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the fall of last year claiming that the Solomon Amendment is a violation of law schools’ first amendment rights of association.

“At this time, Outlaw is not prepared to make an official statement on the case,” said Ryan Kerian, a third-year student in the Law School and co-chair of Outlaw.

Kerian said that Outlaw is currently collaborating with a coalition of law schools including Harvard, Stanford University, the University of Michigan, and Penn to develop a unified official statement in response to today’s decision. In addition, Outlaw representatives will be meeting with school officials on Wednesday to discuss a school-wide response.

Shortly after yesterday’s ruling, Kerian sent out an e-mail to Outlaw members and supporters, thanking them for their efforts in both the amicus brief and their commitment to the issue.

“Today’s decision is not final because it is right, it is ‘right’ because it is final,” said Kerian in his e-mail.