Legal Jeopardy. (Comment)

By Eliasberg, Kristin | The Nation, November 4, 2002 | Go to article overview

Legal Jeopardy. (Comment)


Eliasberg, Kristin, The Nation


The military needs more lawyers. More accurately, the Defense Department wants military recruiters to recruit law students on campus and through official channels. With the nation preparing for war, the student veterans associations and ROTC offices, where such recruiting used to take place, aren't good enough.

Many law schools have in the past declined to give official support to military recruiters, because the schools welcome only prospective employers that do not discriminate on any basis, and the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy excludes anyone who is openly gay. This year, the Defense Department is taking an aggressive approach, and because of a recent reinterpretation of legislation known as the Solomon Amendment, it's getting its way. Under the amendment, federal funding may be withdrawn from any university whose law school is not in compliance with regulations enabling military recruitment. That means funding not just for the law school but university-wide--amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.

At least ten schools, including Harvard, Yale and the University of Southern California, received letters from the Air Force or Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) corps informing them they were not in compliance with the requirements of the Solomon Amendment and that their university funding was in jeopardy. The JAG corps had occasionally notified schools of compliance problems before but had always concluded that alternative arrangements to accommodate recruiters were in compliance. Post-9/11, they're less flexible. As Harvard law professor Janet Halley observes, "I don't think it's any accident that the DoD left the Solomon Amendment completely ignored until now. They saw they could exploit a weakness, and unfortunately they were right."

Faced with this draconian choice, law schools are allowing recruiters on campus while expressing their opposition to them. Notices at USC informed students that the military violates the school's nondiscrimination policy. Yale students held a rally attended by law school faculty and the dean. Students at Harvard, gay and straight, signed up for interview slots--not to interview, but to discuss "don't ask, don't tell.

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