Although 2004 brought both good and bad news for the Yale Law School students involved in suits against the Department of Defense over the Solomon Amendment, as 2005 begins those students once again find themselves in limbo. Following developments in November and December, students are still awaiting a judge’s decision, and the University remains undecided about its policy for the upcoming recruitment season.
In October 2003, the Yale Student/Faculty Alliance for Military Equality and OutLAWS — an organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender law students — first filed a lawsuit against the government regarding the Solomon Amendment, a national law that suspends federal funding to colleges who block U.S. Department of Defense recruiters from campus. Many students and faculty at Yale campaigned to keep recruiters off campus because they felt the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on sexual orientation violated the University’s nondiscrimination policies.
Last January, the government attempted to dismiss the student suit. Throughout the year, students continued to take action by filing for summary judgement in April, and, most recently, presenting their oral arguments in December. Presently, students are still waiting for the judge’s rulings.
“At this point, they are still in a wait mode,” a representative of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, the law firm providing pro bono counsel to the students, said last week.
But a November Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against the Department of Defense bolstered the students’ cause, professors and students said. In their ruling, the appeals court judges said the Solomon Amendment unlawfully violated universities’ First Amendment rights. Some students agreed that the Third Circuit decision would play a role in their own case.
“Even though the ruling is not in our circuit, [the judge in our case] will probably look at it and take time to digest it,” said SAME co-chair Fadi Hanna LAW ’06.
Following the ruling, Harvard reinstituted their ban against military recruiters on campus, but Yale has yet to decide if it will bar recruiters for the spring JAG recruitment season which begins with interviews in February, Law School Dean Harold Hongju Koh said.
For now, the students are more concerned about garnering the support of the community than about winning the lawsuit in the courts, Alexi Zervos LAW ’05, a member of OutLAWS, said
Yale law professors said although the students have learned a lot from the lawsuit, the two groups did not file the lawsuit solely to gain experience, but because they felt passionate about the issue.
“They are parties, not just advocates,” Yale law professor Robert Solomon said.
Hanna recounted the story of a recent graduate who said he learned more working on the lawsuit than he did in any other area of the law school.
“We think about what precedence we are setting and how other people will see our arguments,” Hanna said. “It’s really cool to feel like we are part of a larger movement.”