A major lawsuit was recently filed in an effort to end forced military recruitment on law school campuses nationwide. The suit, filed in the Third Circuit, against the Department of Defense, is being supported by law schools and professors around the country. It was brought in response to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding gays.
The litigants hope to strike down the so-called Solomon Amendment, which ties federal funding to on-campus military recruitment. According to the law, if universities – or their law schools – do not allow military recruitment on their campuses, the government can withhold millions of dollars in funding per year to each university.
The case has been filed by two main litigants, the Society of American Law Teachers, which includes professors at the Law School, and the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights. FAIR represents at least five law schools and SALT represents professors from about 159, according to their respective presidents.
The suit, filed Sept. 19, claims that the Solomon Amendment violates each law school’s first amendment rights by denying it the ability to execute its anti-discrimination policies.
The member law schools of SALT and FAIR include sexual orientation in its anti-discrimination policies and do not allow employers to recruit on campus if its students are subject to discrimination.
According to FAIR’s president and founder Kent Greenfield, Boston College receives between $5 and $40 million each year and Harvard receives more than $300 million. He does not know Penn’s figures.
As a result of the extensive funding at stake, law schools are essentially forced to allow the military to recruit on campus despite its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
According to Greenfield, the litigants are led by “at least two partners and at least four associates” from the New York office of the San Francisco-based law firm Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe.
Paula Johnson, co-president of SALT, describes the suit as a “collective and collaborative effort” among lawyers, professors and others. The team has been working on the case since late July, she said.
SALT and FAIR hope to see the judge grant a preliminary injunction against the Department of Defense preventing recruitment on the campuses of law schools involved until the suit is resolved.
Given the nature of the case, Johnson has expressed the importance of moving quickly.
“The recruitment season begins now,” Johnson says. “So in order to get there and try and stave off this continuing discrimination, we needed to get it to court as quickly as possible.”
Recruitment of Penn students for the position of judge advocate general began roughly two weeks ago and has since ended, according to vice dean for administrative services Jo-Ann Verrier.
“Our position [on the issue] remains the same,” Verrier says. “We are troubled by the Solomon Amendments – we would like to enforce our nondiscrimination policy.”
Bryan Tallevi, a second-year law student at Penn, is hopeful that the suit will work toward changing the current federal policy, which he described as “more a federal spending power issue” than a gay rights issue.
Tallevi is co-president of Lambda Law, a group that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students at the Law School – the same group that organized the protest march against Air Force JAG recruiters Sept. 15.
He says that “regardless of what happens, it probably won’t be the end of (the issue).”
Johnson remains confident that the law schools are in the right and have the Constitution on its side.
“It’s not just that we think it’s a good thing to do,” she says. “We think that constitutionally it ought to be recognized as the right thing to do.”
Jon Passaro, Daily Pennsylvanian University of Pennsylvania