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Military ban on campus rejected
The Supreme Court yesterday ruled against universities that had prohibited military recruiters on campus.
The justices unanimously upheld a 1996 federal law that permits the government to withhold funds from universities that deny military recruiters the same access to students that is allowed other potential employers.
“Recruiters are, by definition, outsiders who come onto campus for the limited purpose of trying to hire students,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the court in his third opinion since being confirmed six months ago.
Several universities had banned military recruiters to protest the Pentagon’s policy against open homosexuality in the armed forces.
The ruling arrives as the Pentagon struggles to achieve recruiting goals for an all-volunteer military force facing the strain of prolonged deployments required by the ongoing war on terrorism.
The case grew from a suit brought by a coalition of law schools and professors, who argued that their First Amendment right of free expression was violated by the 1996 law on grounds that it forced them to associate with and promote the activities of military recruiters.
Chief Justice Roberts rejected that argument, saying, “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.”
The chief justice said that the legal core of the case had nothing to do with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and that allowing military recruiters at universities is paramount to attracting talent to the armed forces — particularly to the ranks of military lawyers.
Because he was not on the court in December when the case was argued, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. abstained from the ruling, which drew mixed reactions from court observers yesterday.
“This decision is particularly important given that our nation is at war,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, who added the ruling “leaves no doubt that the United States military will continue to have equal access to all segments of our population … and will be able to recruit the best and brightest that America has to offer.”
The American Civil Liberties Union had filed a brief supporting the law schools, and ACLU legal director Steven R. Shapiro said universities “should not be punished by the loss of their federal funding merely because they apply the same nondiscrimination policies to the military that they apply to every other employer that seeks to recruit on campus.”
Nationwide, universities and colleges receive about $35 billion in federal funding annually.
Various universities have moved to bar military recruiters in the past, most notably during widespread demonstrations against the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But campus outcry took a new turn in 1993, when President Clinton signed the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy into law.
The policy allows homosexuals to serve in the military, but warrants their dismissal if they announce their orientation to others.
By the mid-1990s, several university law schools began barring military recruiters, along with those of any employer who could not promise that it would not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, from operating on campus.
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