Colleges Must Allow Military Recruiters On Campus — If They Want Federal Money

Supreme Court rejects free-speech argument.

Rejecting a free-speech challenge from law school professors, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that colleges that accept federal money must permit military recruiters on campus.

Despite objections from some universities over the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gay people in the military, the court voted unanimously on the topic, with recently seated Chief Justice John Roberts writing the decision, according to The Associated Press.

"A military recruiter's mere presence on campus does not violate a law school's right to associate, regardless of how repugnant the law school considers the recruiter's message," Roberts wrote. Law school professors had challenged the law, claiming they should not be forced to associate with military recruiters or promote their appearances on campus because of the professors' objection to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which allows gay men and women to serve in the military as long as they keep their sexual orientation secret.

Many universities have policies forbidding appearances by recruiters from public agencies or private companies with discriminatory policies. In some instances, recruiters can still come to campus, but they do not receive assistance from the law schools' employment-placement offices. But Roberts said there are other, less drastic ways to protest the military's rules.

A Connecticut federal judge previously ruled that Yale Law School had a right to bar military recruiters from its job-interview program, and 45 Yale Law School professors signed a friend-of-the-court brief (the name for a brief filed with the court by someone who is not a party to the case, but who believes that the court's decision may affect his or her interest) in the case that was decided Monday, but it was not immediately clear how the opinion would affect Yale, according to the AP.

The fight puts universities in a difficult position. While they claim they cannot afford to lose the federal assistance, which totals around $35 billion a year, they were uneasy with the 1994 federal law passed to combat the banning of recruiters — known as the Solomon Amendment — which required universities to give the military the same access as other recruiters or forfeit federal money. After the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, the Pentagon began strictly enforcing the amendment, and in 2003 Congress amended the Solomon act to require equal access. Law schools have reluctantly complied since then but have also filed suits challenging it.

Government lawyers argued that the Solomon Amendment didn't order schools to stop protesting military recruiters; it simply put a condition on their blocking military recruiters' access to students.

"The Solomon Amendment neither limits what law schools may say nor requires them to say anything," Roberts wrote in the 8-0 decision, which did not include recently seated Justice Samuel Alito, who was not on the bench at the time the case was heard.