The Columbia Critic

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Columbia Spectator: Supreme Court Upholds Solomon Amendment

Supreme Court Upholds Solomon Amendment
Unanimous Ruling Affirms Military’s Right to Recruit on College Campuses

By John Davisson
Spectator Staff Writer

March 08, 2006

Colleges and universities that accept federal funding must allow equal access to military recruiters, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday. The decision delivered a major legal defeat to Columbia and other schools that oppose the Defense Department’s policy on admitting homosexuals.

In an 8-0 decision, the court rejected arguments by a group of law professors who maintained that schools have a First Amendment right to ban recruiters from their campuses if those schools consider the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy unfair.

“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,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the court’s opinion.

New Justice Samuel Alito, who was not yet on the bench when oral arguments were heard in December, did not participate in the vote.

The ruling on the case, Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, upholds the 1994 Solomon Amendment, which first barred the deployment of federal funds to schools that block military recruiters. Under the amendment, if one element of a university—such as a law school—denies or limits access, funding can be withdrawn from the entire institution, including research subsidies and most types of financial aid.

But Roberts noted in the opinion that the amendment does not stop a college or its students from voicing opposition to the military’s policy, even by posting warnings where recruiters operate. In recent years, law schools have drawn particular scrutiny from the Department of Defense for limiting or denying access to recruiters.

In 2002, after resisting the terms of the amendment, Columbia bowed to pressure and agreed to suspend its nondiscrimination policy with respect to military recruiters.

A statement issued Monday by Columbia said, “We are disappointed in today’s Supreme Court ruling but will of course continue to abide by the law.” In 2004, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of FAIR and issued an injunction against enforcement of the law, which Monday’s decision reversed.

The Solomon Amendment also states that any institution denying access to the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps can have its funding revoked. Though this particular portion of the amendment was not under review, it has been reactivated along with the rest of the law.

In May 2005, Columbia’s University Senate rejected a proposal to drop its prohibition of ROTC by a vote of 53-10. Monday’s decision means that the Defense Department could, in theory, choose to establish an ROTC program or satellite office on campus, as was the case for the first decade of the amendment’s existence.

“I think that if the Department of Defense wants to take this up, which is likely, they will target Columbia as needing to have a regional program,” Nate Walker, TC ’07 and former co-chair of the Columbia University ROTC Task Force, said Tuesday night, speaking at a lecture titled, “Military Access v. University Autonomy: The Case of Columbia University.”

Sean Wilkes, CC ’06, president of Columbia Advocates for ROTC, and an ROTC cadet through Fordham, said that the decision is not likely to have a noticeable impact at Columbia, as the Department of Defense would probably not target a campus that has been historically unfriendly to ROTC.

“The Supreme Court ruling probably has more of an impact at a school like Princeton,” he added.

Some students and faculty at Princeton have advocated removing the university’s active ROTC program, an effort which Wilkes said would likely subside with the ruling. He added that an ROTC is not likely to start operating at Columbia unless the University drops its opposition to the program.


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