Military Recruiting Law Upheld by Supreme Court

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday that colleges must allow military recruiters on campus if the schools want to go on receiving federal money. The ruling upholds a law passed by Congress, and is a defeat for schools who say the military is a discriminatory employer because of its regulations regarding gays.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Supreme Court ruled today that colleges must allow military recruiters on campus if the schools want to go on receiving federal money. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg was at the court this morning, and she joins me now. And Nina, let's back up and have you tell us what the problem was that the colleges had with military recruiters in the first place.

NINA TOTENBERG reporting:

Well, the problem was the military's don't ask, don't tell policy, which the universities contended conflict with non-discrimination policies. In particular, law school policies that have long required recruiters to sign a pledge that they don't discriminate based on race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. In 1994, Congress passed a law cutting off Defense Department funding to any school that restricted military recruitment. Most schools then allowed military recruiters onto the campus, but restricted the school's own administrative services, like sending out emails and flyers. Then came the Bush administration and 9/11, and the schools were told they would lose all their federal funding, university-wide, if the law schools didn't provide exactly the same administrative services to the military that it provided to other recruiters.

And some schools went to court, they won a judgment in the lower court, the government appealed to the Supreme Court, and today, the government won unanimously.

MONTAGNE: And what did the Supreme Court say in ruling for the military?

TOTENBERG: Well, Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the unanimous court. He said that this law regulates conduct, not speech--that the law schools remain free to express their views while retaining government money, that this was a far cry from compelled speech. This is plainly, that the kind of stuff that the universities were being required to do, sending out flyers, emails, etcetera, that that was incidental to the expressive speech. Military recruiters, he said, are speaking on campus--that the law schools are hosting, but the schools aren't speaking by providing them access, and the conduct can't be labeled speech, and so the government has won a very big victory here. In fact, the court said that the government could directly require universities to provide this kind of access, without condition, on funding.

MONTAGNE: Again, the high court has ruled unanimously that colleges that accept federal funding must allow military recruiters on campus. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Thanks very much, Nina.

TOTENBERG: Thank you, Renee.

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