NEW HAVEN, Sept. 30 — For five years, Yale Law School has fought to restrict military recruiters from its job fairs because of the Pentagon’s policy that bars openly gay or bisexual people from the military. But with the federal government threatening to withhold $350 million in grants if the university does not assist the recruiters, that fight will all but end on Monday.
After an appeals court ruled in favor of the Defense Department on Sept. 17, the law school said it would allow recruiters from the Air Force and Navy to participate in a university-sponsored job interview program for law students on Monday afternoon. For now, the legal battle to stop the recruiters is over, said Robert A. Burt, a Yale law professor and the lead plaintiff in the case.
“The judges who hold office at the moment disagree with us,” Professor Burt said. “We must wait for history to vindicate our position.”
At question is a statute called the Solomon Amendment, which allows the federal government to withhold funds from universities that do not extend the same welcome to military recruiters as they do to other recruiters.
Since 1978, Yale Law School has required recruiters to sign a pledge of nondiscrimination. Military recruiters would not do that because of the Defense Department’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which permits homosexuals to serve in the armed forces as long as they keep their sexual orientation private.
But in 2002, the federal government threatened to withhold the millions it grants to Yale every year, mostly for medical and scientific research, if the law school did not accommodate the recruiters. The law school complied, but 45 members of its faculty filed suit, challenging the law as an infringement on free speech and association as well as academic freedoms. (Yale College has not restricted the activities of military recruiters.)
A district court agreed in 2005, and the law school again ceased to assist military recruiters. But in a broader case, the United States Supreme Court last year unanimously sided against a consortium of about three dozen law schools and universities seeking to bar recruiters from their campuses. Because of that decision, the ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan against the professors last month was widely anticipated here.
Still, that did not lessen the ruling’s sting for gay rights advocates like Sara Jeruss, a third-year law student and the co-chairwoman of OutLaws, an organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students at the law school.
“We’re disappointed by it,” Ms. Jeruss said recently in an interview. “We obviously wish the government wasn’t forcing discrimination on us.”
But given the Supreme Court’s ruling, Professor Burt said, there was little chance the appeals court would side with the professors, and even less of a chance that such a ruling would survive on another appeal to the high court. That left the law school out of options.
“We had a choice, which is we could continue to exclude the military, and Yale University would have lost $300 million per year,” Professor Burt said in an interview here recently. “We’re not going to bring the medical school and the whole science enterprise to its knees.”
And so the law school obliged when officials from the Judge Advocate General’s Corps in the Air Force and Navy asked to be part of the law school’s fall job interview program, which begins Monday afternoon at a hotel near the campus.
Yale will be one of nearly 200 law schools that the Air Force’s judge advocate corps will visit this year, said Capt. Eric Merriam, the chief of recruiting for the corps.
“We appreciate the opportunity to explain the opportunities for qualified attorneys to serve the United States as members of the Air Force JAG Corps,” he said.
Still, the court decision does not appear to have stifled any bitterness over the recruiters’ visit. A coalition of law school faculty, students and staff members were to release a letter on Monday strongly disagreeing with the don’t ask, don’t tell policy, and gay rights activists at the law school planned a silent protest for the afternoon.
And not everyone here thinks that the fight was worth it. Stephen Vaden, a third-year law student and an opponent of don’t ask, don’t tell, said the school would be better able to effect change in the military’s policies if more students were exposed to career opportunities within the armed forces.
“I think that those individuals who want to change the don’t ask, don’t tell policy are going about it in completely the wrong way,” said Mr. Vaden, president of the Yale Law Republicans. “Standing in the courtroom, screaming ‘Discrimination!’ and trying to ban them from the law school,” he added, “they’re doing themselves more harm than good.”
Ms. Jeruss and other students said that their protest was not aimed at the recruiters personally, and Captain Merriam said that the JAG Corps’ recruitment efforts would not be affected by any dissent at Yale. But students promised that as long as the don’t ask, don’t tell policy was in effect, they would demonstrate whenever military recruiters travel here.
“We may not be able to stop the recruiters from coming, but we certainly still have the ability — and I think, the responsibility — to speak out,” said Addisu Demissie, a third-year law student. “That’s what we have left.”