US universities that accept federal funding must allow military recruiters on their campuses even if they object to the military's ban on openly gay people, the Supreme Court has ruled.
The court decided unanimously that a law called the Solomon Amendment, which requires military recruiters to be allowed on campus, did not go against universities' constitutional rights of free speech and free association.
The case was brought by a group called the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, which is made up primarily of US law schools. The group argued that obliging universities to allow military recruiting forced them to choose between accepting a military recruiter's message and receiving federal funding.
But Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court, concluded: "The Solomon Amendment neither limits what law schools may say nor requires them to say anything. Law schools remain free under the statute to express whatever views they may have on the military's congressionally mandated employment policy, all the while retaining eligibility for federal funds.
"As a general matter, the Solomon Amendment regulates conduct, not speech.
It affects what law schools must do - afford equal access to military recruiters - not what they may or may not say."
Initially, the Solomon Amendment required only that military recruiters be allowed on campuses that receive federal funds. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, it was interpreted more strictly as requiring institutions to afford military recruiters the same amount of time and access to students as other recruiters. If other recruiters were allowed inside a law school, therefore, the military must also be allowed there and not restricted to elsewhere on the campus.
The law schools sought a preliminary injunction against the law in 2003, leading to the Supreme Court case. The American Association of University Professors said the Solomon Amendment also interfered with academic self-governance, an argument that the justices did not address. Critics of the policy said it could leave the door open for additional challenges.
Military recruiters are still allowed in law schools. Harvard Law School, for example, reversed a ten-month-old ban in September after threats to the university's federal funding. Some 15 per cent of its operating budget comes from the federal Government.