Kagan to Certain Students: Get to the Back of the Bus

Solicitor General and Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan treated patriotic students like second-class citizens when she banned them from meeting with military recruiters in the career office while she was the dean of students at Harvard Law School.

It is unclear whether she encouraged or required students to go off campus to meet with military recruiters. According to the New York Times, Harvard allowed on campus recruiting with the assistance of the Harvard Law Students Veterans Association (HLSVA). However, according to a letter posted on the HLSVA website from February 18, 2005, the HLSVA recruiters “will be strongly encouraged to arrange for an off-campus location to conduct interviews.” 

The letter said that their effort to provide recruiting assistance “falls short of duplicating the excellent assistance provided by the HLS Office of Career Services,” clearly indicating that students interested in a career in the military were not receiving institutional aid. Rather they were passed off to a group that acknowledged because of their “tiny membership, meager budget, and lack of any office space, we possess neither the time nor the resources to routinely schedule campus rooms or advertise extensively for outside organizations, as is the norm for most recruiting events.”

Kagan, in jeopardy of losing millions in federal funds for Harvard, and most likely under pressure from then-Harvard President Lawrence Summers, opted for an apartheid system rather than an outright ban. She forced students to meet with military representatives off campus or in a segregated part of the campus, essentially telling these young people to “get to the back of the bus.”

Kagan fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to attempt to institutionalize discrimination against students who wish to serve their country. She filed an amicus brief in Rumsfeld v. FAIR, challenging the constitutionality of the Solomon Amendment, which requires campuses to allow the military to recruit and ROTC programs to exist on campus or lose federal funding.

Kagan’s position was so extreme that it was rejected unanimously by the Supreme Court. The court said that students have every right to meet with the military on campus and that the federal government has every right to deny U.S. taxpayer funds to schools that did not comply.

Even candidate Barack Obama claimed to differ with Kagan’s stance, saying that students should have military service opportunities on campus. He said, “The notion that young people…anywhere, in any university, aren’t offered the choice, the option of participating in military service, I think is a mistake,” he said at a forum at Columbia University on Sept. 11, 2008)

Kagan’s assault against student rights—particularly those willing to sacrifice their lives in the service of their country—will begin anew should she win a powerful, life-long seat on the Supreme Court.