The Solomon Amendment Case

Ken AshfordConstitutionLeave a Comment

Sadly, I simply won’t have time to do a timely, intelligent post on the Court’s unanimous decision yesterday on the Solomon Amendment.

So, as a cheap cop-out, I beg, borrow, and steal from Blogometer for a round-up of what other people are saying:

The SCOTUS ruled unanimously 3/6 in support the Solomon Amendment, requiring Yale law and other schools to allow ROTC on-campus or lose federal funding. Yale argued that Solomon prevented them from exercising their freedom of speech — many schools object to the ban on gays serving in the military — but the SCOTUS did not agree with that interpretation. SCOTUSblog goes in-depth: "Today’s decision is much more in keeping with PruneYard (which it favorably cites) than with PG&E and Dale. Together with Johans, it shows that the Court is cutting back on some of the excesses of its compelled-speech doctrine."

Univ. WI-Madison law prof Ann Althouse is quite impressed: "I want to express my deepest thanks to Chief Justice [John] Roberts for gathering the Justices onto one clearly written opinion. There is no blather or hedging in the prose. He has obviously taken great pains to put every sentence in plain English. He deals with all the precedents, handling most of the cases in one or two crisp sentences. You may not appreciate how beautiful this thinking and writing is, but I do, and I think generations of law students will."

Left-leaning Publius of Legal Fiction generally agrees with Roberts (and Althouse), but dislikes the part where Roberts wrote: "Congress’ power to regulate military recruiting under the Solomon Amendment is arguably greater because universities are free to decline the federal funds." Publius comments: "The idea is that attaching conditions to federal spending is less coercive than directly requiring people to act in a certain way. While I agree that this practice might be less coercive, it’s still coercive." WSJ online columnist James Taranto: "Will any institution of higher education respond to the Rumsfeld ruling by declining to accept federal funds? The answer to that question will show us all how much those principles are worth."

Self-described gay conservative Andrew Sullivan agrees with the decision itself, but adds: "On the substantive matter, I appreciate the efforts of many in universities to highlight and expose the stupidity and bigotry of the military’s ban on openly gay service members. But we are at war, and the gap between military and elite culture needs bridging, not widening. Let them recruit; and let others debate. And, for Pete’s sake, let’s change this dumb policy."

Liberal Mustang Bobby concurs: "Aside from the shameful nature of this policy on its face, it has also hampered our actual war efforts. It makes you wonder what’s more important to the Department of Defense: defending our nation or making a bunch of right-wing homophobes happy."

To that, I add the comments by Dale Carpenter and Kevin Drum, the latter of whom write:

Prof. Bainbridge explains that the key issue is the "unconstitutional conditions doctrine," which means that a law denying funding unless you do X is constitutional if Congress could just mandate X in the first place. That makes sense to me, although I’m a little surprised to learn that Congress could indeed have simply mandated access to military recruiters if it wanted to. Under that doctrine, could newspapers be required to accept advertising for military recruitment even if they didn’t want to?

But that’s not what I’m really curious about. What I’m curious about is this: if Congress could have simply forced universities to provide access to military recruiters, why didn’t they do it? Why bother with all the federal funding cutoff folderol? Seems pretty inefficient, no?

As for myself, I disappointed at the outcome, as well as the unanimity of it.  I would like to read the opinion to see if it holds water for me, but time prevents me from doing so.