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Reflection Two on Rumsfeld v. FAIR

Enough pixels have already fluttered regarding the constitutional repercussions of Rumsfeld v. FAIR, and I really have nothing to add to the kind of commentary that engages Con Law professors. My thoughts are slightly broader and less focused.

1) Broadly speaking I think the opinion comes out correctly. Law schools can't be forced to hire pro-Solomon professors, one supposes, but they must allow military recruiters on campus. The schools will continue to grant them access whilst posting signs in GREAT BIG CAPITAL LETTERS telling us what horrible people the military are, maybe in the future making applicants run a gaunlet of screaming protestors, but they can't close the door altogether. There's a justice in this: as I've said before, if you're going to take the king's shilling, you can't be upset when you get dragooned.

That's not to say that "don't ask, don't tell" is good policy: it isn't. (On the other hand, it's not disastrous policy: keeping homosexuals out of the military will result in, at the very worst, a slightly less-than-optimal allocation of resources to the armed forces.) We should change that policy, but to do so we'll need to change hearts and minds both within the military and without. To do that, at least insofar as JAG recruiting is relevant, the ivory tower of law would have to reconnect with the serfs living outside the keep, at least now that the legal equivalent of the Sacred Council of Cardinals has declined to intervene in more temporal affairs. Maybe this will provide the incentive.

2) Thankfully, Chief Justice Roberts and the rest of the Court soundly rejected the amicus brief of Columbia's law faculty. As a quick recap, the professors argued that when Congress passed Solomon, they meant to ban discrimination against military recruiters, and that an even-handed anti-discrimination policy on sexual orientation applied to both law firms and the military does not do that.

First, this argument borders upon an arid textualism. The military isn't disadvantaged if the rule is stated "we don't allow any employers to interview if they discriminate." Yet they are disadvantaged if we state a more robust rule: "we don't allow any employers to interview if they discriminate other than as required by law." Is it the honest opinion of the law faculty that in any other situation, they'd apply their anti-discrimination policy against employers who were complying with a statutory mandate? (If a law were passed stating that no declared homosexual would be allowed to pass the bar--presuming its constitutionality--would the law schools really shut out everyone?) Can an organization that accredits students who are presumably expected to comply with the law really say that their antidiscrimination policies should trump a valid act of Congress?

While I respect most of its signatories, the logic within the brief borders upon farce. How could many of the same professors who have spoken so favorably of legislative history in my classes be so parsimonious with it in front of the Court? From the legal realist perspective--and one of the signatories is one of my favorite of Columbia's realists--what possibly can the law schools have hoped to gain if the Court ruled in their favor? Unless the professors truly believed that Congress really intended such a stingy reading of Solomon--go ahead, take a moment to laugh--didn't they expect that a ruling in their favor would result in yet another revision to the statute, this time erasing the scintilla of doubt that might somehow be scraped from its text? At best, such a result punts the issue six months to a year down the road. Woohoo! We can bar the doors to the military for one year at the risk of draconian wrath from a Congress that--it's hard to realize this from New York--still sits in Red State hands.

3) It's worth placing this debate in its larger context. Rumsfeld v. FAIR follows Romer and Lawrence as part of a larger debate this country is having: is it acceptable for our society, or even subsections of it, to disapprove of certain sexual behavior? And here I find myself having--uncomfortably--to side with the social conservatives.

There is a difference between saying that one should stigmatize certain sexual behavior and that the country can do so through legislation. To say that anti-sodomy laws should be overturned merely requires the expression of a political opinion, and one I share. To agree with Lawrence is to fantasize that this country at some point collectively decided that anti-sodomy laws were so vile that our descendants should require a supermajority if such policies were to be instituted. To believe that discrimination against homosexuals in employment should be prohibited, one must merely think that Congress or the states have the power to do so if they wish. To believe in Romer, one must think that at some point a majority of us agreed that any other law was beyond the pale.

Me, I'm sure I do a lot of things of which other people wouldn't approve, simply because they're legal, fun and I don't feel they harm anyone else. (Some of my best friends are Mormon, and almost certainly disapprove of my Chestertonian fondness for wine.) But those others should still be able--electorally, if need be--to disapprove of my choice. To do otherwise not only trivialize their opinion: it trivializes my choice to disagree with them.

Such dismissive attitudes come with political cost. After Lawrence and Goodridge, after all, came a multitude of state constitutional provisions making obvious clarification. To paraphrase the intent of each such resolution: "Whatever we've said before about equality, it didn't change the common sense idea that when we say 'wife' we mean a woman, when we say 'husband' we mean a man, and when we say 'marriage' it means between a husband and a wife. If we were ever convinced otherwise, we would have mentioned it sooner. Judges, take note."

It's great that my law school doesn't think homosexuality--or even much in the way of consensual sex--should be verboten. But law schools accredit lawyers, and however much I disagree with folks who think sex should be limited by tradition, religion or what have you, they should have the right to have their lawyers too.

4) Finally, my favorite part of Chief Justice Robert's opinion occurs on page fifteen of the slip opinion:

The schools respond that if they treat military and nonmilitary recruiters alike in order to comply with
the Solomon Amendment, they could be viewed as sending the message that they see nothing wrong with the military's policies, when they do. We rejected a similar argument in PruneYard Shopping Center v. Robins, 447 U. S. 74 (1980). In that case, we upheld a state law requiring a shopping center owner to allow certain expressive activities by others on its property. We explained that there was little likelihood that the views of those engaging in the expressive activities would be identified with the owner, who remained free to disassociate himself from those views and who was "not ... being compelled to affirm [a] belief in any governmentally prescribed position or view." Id., at 88.

The same is true here. Nothing about recruiting suggests that law schools agree with any speech by recruiters, and nothing in the Solomon Amendment restricts what the law schools may say about the military's policies. We have held that high school students can appreciate the difference between speech a school sponsors and speech the school permits because legally required to do so, pursuant to an equal access policy. Board of Ed. of Westside Community Schools (Dist. 66) v. Mergens, 496 U. S. 226, 250 (1990) (plurality opinion); accord, id., at 268 (Marshall, J., concurring in judgment); see also Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 U. S. 819, 841 (1995) (attribution concern "not a plausible fear"). Surely students have not lost that ability by the time they get to law school.

(emphasis added) Thankfully, at least the Supreme Court sees law students as adults. Can we now lay to rest the fanciful idea that law students couldn't figure out the institutional stance on 'don't ask, don't tell'?

(Update: a few text errors, including the embarrassing mistake of confusing Romer with Roper, corrected.)


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Reflection Two on Rumsfeld v. FAIR:

» A FAIR Assortment from De Novo
I read through the Court's ruling in Rumsfeld v. FAIR quickly, and will be commenting more on others' comments than the decision, having already opined on the case itself well before the oral arguments on it. I'm not surprised by... [Read More]


Hey mate, I really enjoyed discovering your blog today. Especially like the ironic title. Snazzier than mine! I've actually got a 'law' blog myself, obliquely on 'aesthetic legal theory' and am trying to get a bit of exposure for it. I'm a masters student at McGill, graduated from Oxford last year. I realise this is a bit sad, to be plugging myself like this, but I'd be glad to reciprocate and link yours to mine. Blogging is the new democracy after all - so I can but ask! James http://lawandwriting.blogspot.com

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