Professors prepare to sue

At least half of Yale Law School’s professors will soon file a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense with respect to the military’s campus-recruiting policies, administrators and law professors said Sunday.

The suit will center on the 1995 Solomon Amendment, which requires all colleges and universities receiving federal funding to allow military recruiters on campus. Until recently, many American law schools, including Yale, had banned recruiters because the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuality violates the schools’ nondescrimination clauses.

The suit could be filed as early as this week in federal courts in either Connecticut or the District of Columbia, professors said. The Law School faculty has been considering such litigation since October 2002, when Yale officials first waived the application of its decades-old nondiscrimination policy toward recruiters in an effort to preserve over $350 million in federal funding, Law School Dean Anthony Kronman said.

“As this lawsuit goes forward and we come closer to the actual date of filing, I believe the University is actively pursuing alternative means for settling our disagreement with the Department of Defense,” Kronman said. “It would please me mightily if the University were to succeed.”

But Robert Burt, a law professor spearheading the professors’ litigation, said he hopes the University will express its support for the professors by filing its own suit.

“If Yale University were to bring suit in its name, it would indeed be a leader standing up for the autonomy of universities,” Burt said. “No other university has — stood up in court to the kind of coercion that the Department of Defense is exerting.”

Yale President Richard Levin said the University will continue to engage in discussions with the Pentagon. Court documents made public last month reveal a correspondence between the two institutions dating back to 1984.

“We are going to get a final resolution from the Department of Defense before [the University decides] about litigation,” Levin said.

Pentagon officials declined to comment.

Last month a coalition of anonymous law schools and the Society of American Law Teachers — the nation’s largest organization of law professors — sued the Defense Department and five other federal agencies, claiming the Solomon Amendment violates educational institutions’ First Amendment rights.

A federal judge heard oral arguments on the case Friday and is expected to make a ruling within two weeks, the Associated Press reported.

Lawyers from a New York firm representing the Yale professors met with potential plaintiffs last Wednesday to draft a complaint. Two weeks ago, a group of University of Pennsylvania law professors filed a similar suit against the Defense Department.

A coalition of law students also hired attorneys and are considering filing a separate suit, professors and students said.

Student lawsuit organizer Matt Alsdorf LAW ’04 said Law School students seem “incredibly energized” about Yale’s response to the recruiters.

“Students have been supportive of all [our] efforts, and I’m sure they will be supportive of a lawsuit if it comes to that,” Alsdorf said.

Since last year, law students and professors have engaged in a series of protests against recruiting visits for the Judge Advocate General, or JAG, program. Students protested the JAG recruiters’ third visit to the school Thursday by draping the Law School halls in camouflage-and-black fabric.

Law professor Harlon Dalton said the law professors’ unified stance on the issue was impressive.

“I think this is a matter of principle [and] also a matter of respecting our community,” Dalton said. “When those two things come together, I think one ought to act — It’s hard to imagine all the Yale law professors agreeing on anything. We’re all very independent-minded.”

Yale Budget Director Julie Grant said 30 percent of the University’s operating budget comes from government funding. While the Yale Medical School receives about 75 percent of these funds, the Law School is allotted a much smaller amount, she said.

Should Yale file a suit, Levin said the University would have a stronger case against the Defense Department than the law professors because it is the University’s funding that is at stake.

“It’s our federal funding that’s threatened, not the law professors’ [funding],” Levin said.

Student organizers will meet this Wednesday with Burt and other professors to continue planning the suits.

Students protest a campus visit by the Judge Advocate General, or JAG, program in October 2002. A year later, Law School professors and students prepare to file a lawsuit regarding recruiting policies.
Eleanor Sokolow
Students protest a campus visit by the Judge Advocate General, or JAG, program in October 2002. A year later, Law School professors and students prepare to file a lawsuit regarding recruiting policies.

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