Only days before the Judge Advocate General recruiting season is set to begin, Yale Law School officials announced yesterday they will bar military recruiters from the school after years of legal wrangling and campus protests.
This decision, which was announced through a school-wide e-mail, came in response to a Connecticut District Court ruling on Monday in a lawsuit filed by Yale faculty members against the Department of Defense. After reviewing summary judgment claims, U.S. District Judge Janet Hall ruled that the Solomon Amendment — which blocked federal funding to schools that banned military recruiters from campus — was unconstitutional as applied to the Yale Law School. In her decision, Hall said the amendment “is not narrowly tailored to advance a compelling government interest, and thus unjustifiably burdens the Faculty Members’ First Amendment right of expressive association.”
Law School Dean Harold Hongju Koh, a plaintiff in the suit, praised the decision.
“I think the message here is if the government is asking you to support discrimination you should say no, and I think in this we are vindicated,” said Koh, who was a plaintiff in the suit.
In September 2003, 44 faculty members filed suit after the Bush administration began to actively enforce the 1995 Solomon Amendment. The Law School maintained throughout the suit that the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuals violated the University’s non-discrimination olicy, which the law school decided to temporarily suspend to preserve some $350 million it receives annually in federal funding. Substantive motions for the lawsuit were argued in the beginning of December.
In November, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a coalition of law schools and professors suing the Department of Defense on similar grounds as the Yale law professors. This ruling, which led Harvard University to announce that it would bar military recruiters, was cited frequently in Hall’s decision, but Yale Law professor Robert Burt, a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, said Hall seemed favorable to the plaintiff’s arguments from the beginning.
“The third circuit ruling was influential to her, but my guess is that she would have decided the same way even without that decision,” he said.
If the Supreme Court chooses to review the decision of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, Burt said he is optimistic the decision will be upheld.
“I think that our position on the law is very strong, you have the ruling on the third circuit court and now this ruling on the district court,” he said. “Two favorable decisions seem to be me to be very favorable omens for Supreme Court review.”
As for the Yale case, Koh said he expects the government will appeal Monday’s decision.
Representatives from the Department of Defense said they could not comment on the case or the possibility of appeals at this point.
Burt said that although he was extremely happy with the decision, he was slightly disappointed that in her ruling the judge did not focus specifically on the constitutionality of the Solomon Amendment as it relates to academic freedom.
A similar suit filed by student groups has not been resolved, but Adam Sofen LAW ’05, one of the plaintiffs, said this decision will certainly have some impact on the case.
“We are still waiting … but I have no reason at all to think the results should be inconsistent,” Sofen said.