Approximately 30 students and faculty members from Yale Law School gathered on the steps of the United States Courthouse on Church Street Thursday afternoon in support of a lawsuit being filed by two student groups against the Department of Defense.
Alleging that their constitutional rights have been violated by the 1995 Solomon Amendment, the plaintiffs — members of the Student/Faculty Alliance for Military Equality as well as OutLaws, the association of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students — said they are suing to challenge the Defense Department’s enforcement of the amendment.
The Solomon Amendment states that any university whose law school restricts military recruiters’ access to students is liable to lose all federal funding. Yale Law School, like many law schools across the country, was forced to suspend its nondiscrimination policy in the fall of 2002 after the administration of President George W. Bush ’68 began to require strict adherence to the Solomon Amendment. Yale Law School officials had previously refused to allow military recruiters full access to the school’s career office because recruiters, citing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuality, refused to sign the the Law School’s nondiscrimination clause.
Yale receives over $350 million in federal funding each year.
The Yale student litigation is the fourth suit filed against the Defense Department in recent weeks. Forty-four professors at Yale Law School filed a similar suit on Oct. 16, as did a group of law professors and students at the University of Pennsylvania on Oct. 1. The Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, a coalition of law schools and students whose membership is largely anonymous, filed its own lawsuit on Sept. 19.
The students’ lawsuit is based on First and Fifth Amendment rights to free speech, free association, equal protection and due process of law, a press release issued by the plaintiffs said.
Adam Sofen LAW ’05 said in a speech at the courthouse that one year ago, students stood on the steps of the Law School wearing gags to protest the recruiters’ presence. He said that in filing the suit, students are taking a more vocal stance.
“I’m pleased to say that today these gags are no longer necessary,” Sofen said.
Rebecca Tinio LAW ’06 said she had always felt that exclusion based on sexual orientation did not make sense. But Tinio said now that she is learning legal analysis, she can use the law as justification for her beliefs. She said she has learned that discrimination violates rights to equal protection and free speech.
“Today is about our constitutional right to uphold equality, as seen in the law school’s nondiscrimination policy,” Tinio said.
Matt Alsdorf LAW ’04, a board member of SAME and a member of OutLaws, said the suit was about maintaining the Law School’s principles.
“[Yale Law] is one of the few places in the country where sexuality doesn’t matter,” Alsdorf said. “Last year was a blow to us because all of a sudden the government was reaching in, trying to change the values that this law school stands for.”
Carmine Boccuzzi ’90 LAW ’94, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said the fact that four separate lawsuits have been filed against the Defense Department indicates that military recruitment is a significant issue for schools across the country.
“[The number of suits against the Defense Department] definitely shows that there’s a feeling and fact of injury among these law schools and their students,” Boccuzzi said.
Boccuzzi said the government typically has 60 days to respond to a suit such as this one.
Robert Burt, one of the lead plaintiffs in the Yale faculty lawsuit, said he consulted with the law students before they decided to file a separate suit.
“I felt it was really quite important that we each speak with our own voices,” Burt said.
Burt said the students’ lawsuit addresses a unique set of rights claims.
“We on the faculty are not being degraded and wrongfully insulted in the way [the law students] are,” Burt said.
Burt said the suit could ultimately have a national impact, especially if there are differences in the court verdicts in the suits — including those of FAIR, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale.
Both the FAIR and Penn suits fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit. The Yale suits fall under the jurisdiction of the Second Circuit.
“If these cases end up going to the Courts of Appeals in these two circuits and there’s a different decision, it’s very likely that it will go to the Supreme Court,” Burt said.