Law students, Medal of Honor recipients file brief

Urge Supreme Court to uphold Solomon Amendment

Washington, D.C.– The Center for Individual Rights joined with over 50 law students and 8 Medal of Honor recipients in submitting a friend of the court brief to the U.S. Supreme Court urging it to reverse a November, 2004 decision by a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that struck down the Solomon Amendment. Passed by Congress in 1995, the Solomon Amendment requires colleges and universities to provide equal access to military recruiters as a condition of receiving federal funds.

Authored by New York Attorney (and CIR Board Member) Gerald Walpin, the brief points out that if allowed to stand, the Third Circuit’s decision would permit faculty members to prevent “all students — the primary beneficiaries of academic freedom — from exercising their First Amendment right to listen, on campus, to the message of the military.”

The law students are participating because they are “deeply concerned that the decision is inconsistent with their academic freedom to hear expression of view and offers of employment without restrictions imposed by law school administrators and faculty members,” said Walpin.

The Medal of Honor recipients are participating because they believe that “not allowing equal access to the military to be heard by students who wish to hear that employment viewpoint makes a mockery of the basic principles of freedom for which they and their colleagues fought and, as to many, gave their lives,” added Walpin.

Walpin’s brief notes that CIR’s landmark 1995 Supreme Court case, Rosenberger v. University of Virginia, helped establish that students have an interest in free and “creative inquiry” and rejected the view that institutions have a separate expressive right to suppress a particular view point merely because administrators find it objectionable.

Moreover, Walpin notes that the Solomon Amendment does not require schools to endorse any particular policy of the federal government. The brief suggests that the plaintiffs’ goal is not greater freedom of expression, but rather the political objective of forcing the military to revoke the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy.

As Walpin notes, the merits of the military’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy are irrelevant to the broader First Amendment issues at stake in this case. Many individuals who oppose the military’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy are united with CIR and the other parties to the brief in taking strong issue with the Third Circuit ruling. If allowed to stand, it would undermine decades of legal precedent built on the idea that if academic freedom means anything, it means that school administrators may not arbitrarily suppress politically disfavored points of view.

The lead plaintiff in the case — a group of law professors calling itself the “Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights” — argued that the Solomon Amendment violated the academic freedom of educational institutions that oppose the military’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy. Some schools prohibit campus recruitment by employers that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Currently, legislation passed by Congress does not permit homosexuals to serve openly in the armed forces. The Third Circuit panel held that requiring schools to permit military recruiters required “law schools to express a message that is incompatible with their educational objectives” and thus, violation of the First Amendment.