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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has long been a source of controversy at law schools, and the end of the policy means that law campuses will become less hostile to military recruiters. One of the two law schools with an outright ban on military recruiters — Vermont Law School — announced that it had lifted that prohibition on July 22, the day President Obama certified the policy’s repeal. “This law school has stood fast to our position of principle, in the face of significant pressure, to insist that the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law be repealed,” said Dean Jeff Shields. “That day is finally here.” The other school, William Mitchell College of Law, is moving forward on the assumption that administrators will soon end the recruiter ban, said spokesman Steve Linders. “Our position is not anti-military,” Linders said. “It is pro-opportunity — we want all of our students who wish to do so to have the opportunity to serve their country. Now that Congress has voted to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and President Obama has signed the certification to end the ban, all will have the opportunity to serve, regardless of sexual orientation, and William Mitchell will once again allow military recruiters on campus.” Both William Mitchell and Vermont have been ineligible to receive certain types of federal money for more than a decade as a result of their decision to ban military recruiters. The Association of American Law Schools has formed a committee to examine changes to its policy requiring member schools to take certain steps when military recruiters appear on campus, including scheduling interviews in less-visible locations and putting up signs warning students that the military discriminated against gays and lesbians. The organization took that stance because Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was seen as violating the AALS’s nondiscrimination policy. “We will be issuing guidance for our member schools on placement, nondiscrimination, amelioration and the like,” said AALS President Michael Olivas. “[The repeal] is a major, helpful change for our membership review process.” Many law schools banned military recruiters in 1993, when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was enacted. Some campuses had blocked recruiters even earlier. For instance, Yale Law School acted in 1978 because recruiters would not sign a pledge of nondiscrimination, and Vermont has banned them since 1985. Similarly, Harvard Law School officially banned military recruiters in 1979, although they were allowed to come to campus at the invitation of a student group. The AALS adopted its policy in 1990, requiring member schools to deny access to employers who do not sign declarations that they do not discriminate on several grounds, including sexual orientation. In response to the recruiter bans, Congress in 1995 passed the Solomon Amendment, which denied government contracts, grants and student assistance to schools that refused to allow military recruiters or the Reserve Officer Training Corps on campus. The Defense Department, empowered to certify compliance, announced its intention to exercise that denial of funding in 2000, prompting many law schools to rethink their policies. A consortium of law schools under the name of Forum for the Academic & Institution Rights Inc. filed suit in 2003, claiming the Solomon Act violated their First Amendment rights. The law schools lost at the district court level, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3d Circuit ruled in their favor. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 2006 that the government could deny money to schools that blocked recruiters. The AALS subsequently dropped its requirement that member schools ban military recruiters in favor of its policy of denying military recruits high-profile meeting space and perks such as coffee and free parking. Vermont Law School estimated that it has lost $500,000 a year in federal funds since 2000 as a result of its military recruiter ban. However, the school has received money from the certain federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Energy. Vermont law students have met with recruiters from the Judge Advocate General’s Corps over the years, albeit off campus. “Our practice reflected our long and strongly held institutional belief that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, like discrimination on the basis of race and other prohibited grounds, is an unacceptable practice that weakens national unity and arbitrarily deprives the military and all sectors of our society of the abilities and services of individuals of high talent and dedication,” Shield said. Harvard Law School’s treatment of military recruiters under former dean Elena Kagan became a point of contention during her confirmation to the Supreme Court. The law school had backed off its recruiter ban in 2002 under pressure of losing federal funding, but Kagan reinstated the ban in 2004 following the 3d Circuit’s decision in the suit brought by the law school consortium. The ban lasted only one semester, as the case was appealed to the Supreme Court. Legal educators have been some of the loudest critics of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Law deans from five top schools sent a letter to the U.S. Senate and House armed services committees in March 2010 urging the repeal of the policy. “One of our core missions is training America’s public servants and providing them with opportunities to serve in all levels of government,” they wrote. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell directly obstructs our efforts, preventing some of our best and brightest from serving their country in the Armed Forces.” Karen Sloan can be contacted at [email protected].

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