In a week in which Yale Law School celebrated the 25th anniversary of its non-discrimination recruitment policy, federal legislation that would stiffen penalties on colleges which ban military recruiters moved to within one step from becoming law.
If signed by President Bush, the bill, which sailed through Congress on Saturday with an overwhelming majority, would suspend federal funding to colleges that block U.S. Department of Defense recruiters from campus. Many universities, including Yale, had kept the recruiters from their campuses because the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on sexual orientation violates the schools’ non-discrimination policies.
The National Defense Authorization Act would block funding from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. The legislation, which cleared through the House by a vote of 359 to 14 and passed in the Senate by a voice vote, would broaden the restrictions of the Solomon Amendment, which currently only withholds Defense Department funding from universities that ban recruiters such as those from the Judge Advocate General program.
In 2002, after Defense Department officials threatened to cut over $300 million in Yale’s federal funding, the Law School suspended its non-discrimination recruitment policy for JAG recruiters.
The law probably would not impact universities such as Yale that have already waived its non-discrimination recruitment policy, said Boston College law professor Kent Greenfield, who founded the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, an association of 25 law schools that filed an early lawsuit against the Defense Department claiming the Solomon Amendment is unconstitutional.
Greenfield said he considers the bill broadening the Solomon Amendment a more egregious infringement upon constitutional rights.
“The First Amendment means that not everyone has to agree, but this statute is seizing the resources of colleges, universities and law schools to further a message that those colleges, universities and law schools don’t agree with,” Greenfield said Thursday.
Yale President Richard Levin said he does not expect the government to block funding to the University because the Law School is allowing the recruiters on campus.
“Yale’s defended its practices on the grounds that they were allowing access for military recruiters,” Levin said Thursday.
Law School Dean Harold Koh and law professor Robert Burt, who is leading a faculty coalition that sued the Defense Department, were unavailable for comment this week. Multiple Defense Department officials declined to comment for this article.
The provision regarding funding to colleges was included in the bill which authorizes appropriations for fiscal year 2005 for military activities of the Defense Department. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., a co-sponsor of the bipartisan bill, said the law was designed primarily to help military families.
“This bill provides real benefits for the people who are the centerpiece of America’s military might,” Skelton said in a news release this week.
Adam Sofen LAW ’05, co-chair of OutLAWS, the Law School’s gay and lesbian student group that filed a student lawsuit against the Defense Department, said he thinks the Solomon Amendment is an abuse of power.
“From the very beginning, members of Congress have attempted to manipulate federal funding to force the Law School to exceed in discrimination against its students,” Sofen said.
Since the Law School allowed JAG recruiters on campus two years ago, students and professors have protested their presence.
“When I came here the first year, I was shocked to find out that Yale was being pressured to abandon its anti-discrimination policy,” Ethel Higonnet LAW ’05 said. “I couldn’t just sit there and do nothing.”
But Higonnet said the campaign against the suspension of the Law School’s non-discrimination recruitment policy has lost speed this year.
“I think people have lost the sense that there are students that are being made to feel like second-class citizens,” Higonnet said.
Sofen said he thinks students around the country are still passionate about the issue, particularly at Yale, but he stressed the need for their persistent involvement.
“If we do not constantly raise our voices against this discrimination, it will come to be seen as normal,” Sofen said.
Currently, three suits have been filed against the government, Greenfield said, adding that he would like to see additional suits.
“The more the merrier,” Greenfield said. “The more we can encourage, the better off we will be because the Defense Department will feel the pressure.”
The suits are still pending in a state court.