Yale Law School students will sue the Department of Defense today in the United States Courthouse at 141 Church St., challenging the department’s alleged violation of their constitutional rights.
Representing approximately 50 students at the Law School, the plaintiffs — the Student/Faculty Alliance for Military Equality and OutLaws, the association of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students — are challenging the 1995 Solomon Amendment, which threatens law schools such as Yale’s with withdrawal of all federal funds if they deny military recruiters access to the law schools’ career offices.
Yale and other law schools have been required in recent years to suspend their non-discrimination policies for military recruiters, who refused to sign non-discrimination clauses because of the military’s “don’t ask don’t tell” policy on homosexuality. Yale restricted military recruiters’ access to its career office until 2001, when the administration of President George W. Bush ’68 began aggressively enforcing the Solomon Amendment.
Yale receives over $350 million in federal funding each year.
Lindsay Barenz LAW ’04 said the Law School students are suing to protect the school’s policies that ban discrimination.
“We’ve been working for over a year to defend our non-discrimination policy,” Barenz said. “This is the next logical step in that process.”
The Yale students’ suit marks the first time a student group in the United States has filed legal action against the Defense Department because of the military recruitment issue.
The students’ lawsuit comes on the heels of a similar suit filed by 44 Yale Law professors on Oct. 16 and an Oct. 1 suit on the behalf of a group of professors at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. The Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, an anonymous coalition of law schools and law students, filed a separate lawsuit against the Department of Defense Sept. 19.
Adam Sofen LAW ’05 said Law School students wanted to file an independent lawsuit to emphasize their personal experiences with the suspension of the non-discrimination policy.
“We decided we would be strengthened by having two lawsuits [from Yale],” Sofen said. “It makes sense in a broad sense — the people who are directly harmed are the students in the Law School.”
Sofen said there are four primary legal bases for the students’ suit. The first is a statutory claim that the Law School has never been in violation of the Solomon Amendment.
“Military recruiters have always been allowed access to Law students [through individual appointments and other arrangements],” Sofen said. “Yale’s previous policy was in compliance.”
Sofen said the suit is also based on claims that forcing Yale to support the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy violates the University’s first amendment rights. He said the Solomon Amendment is applied unfairly because religious schools with a history of pacifism do not have to abide by it and that the federal government cannot withhold funding if the Law School refuses to negate a constitutional right.
Barenz said the lawsuit also was based on Fifth Amendment rights to equal protection and due process.
“Non-discrimination is only suspended for gays,” Barenz said.
Sofen said the case was inspired in part by the recent Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court decision, which prohibited state laws banning homosexuality.
“Lawrence really kicks the legs out from under ‘don’t ask don’t tell,'” Sofen said.
University of Pennsylvania Law School Vice Dean Joanne Verrier said controversy over military recruiting was a national issue that she expects will continue until law schools were allowed to re-institute their non-discrimination policies.