Military recruiters who came to Stanford Law School on October 3 to recruit students to the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. (JAG) were met by a spirited protest attended by students and faculty. Larry Kramer, Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean, spoke at the demonstration, saying that the U.S. military’s policy regarding gays is “a barrier to service that makes no more sense than excluding people on the basis of race or gender.”

The issue at hand was not whether the military could recruit Stanford students, or even recruit them on campus. Stanford has never barred or interfered with military recruiting. The issue was whether the law school’s Office of Career Services is required to provide affirmative assistance to military recruiters by organizing student signups, arranging interview times and places, and the like. To be entitled to such assistance, an employer must first garner a certain level of student interest. In most years, interest in the military, along with many other potential employers, has been too low to meet this threshold. Even employers who meet the threshold, however, are not entitled to these services if they discriminate because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or certain other criteria. The U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy effectively discriminates against homosexuals.

Because most universities have policies similar to Stanford’s, Congress passed the Solomon Amendment in 1997, requiring law schools to assist military recruiters on campus or risk losing federal funding. When Stanford and other law schools chose to forgo the modest federal aid they received (student loan support being exempted), Congress amended the statute in 2001 to expand its penalties. Unless law schools offer the affirmative assistance of their career development offices to military recruiters, federal lawmakers said, the entire university will be stripped of federal funding.

“The military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy is in contradiction of two principles we cherish at Stanford,” said Stanford President John L. Hennessy. “First, we believe that equal respect and treatment are absolutely basic to our life as an intellectual community. Second, we believe that the right to speak freely about one’s ideas and one’s identity is fundamental to the life of the university.”

The constitutionality of the Solomon Amendment is being challenged in court. On December 6 the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Rumsfeld v. FAIR. The Court is expected to rule on the case by the end of June.