The faculty at Georgetown and several other law schools squared off against the Pentagon in the Supreme Court last month challenging a law requiring schools to permit military recruiters on campus.

But during oral arguments before the court on Dec. 6, some justices expressed skepticism about the schools’ criticism of the federal law, known as the Solomon Amendment, which authorizes the withholding of federal funds from colleges and universities that ban the military from recruiting on their campuses.

The case was brought by the 36 law schools in the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, who allege that that the law violates their First Amendment rights because the military’s policy against openly gay members is contrary to their own non-discrimination policies.

In November 2004, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the Solomon Amendment, prompting the government to appeal the case to the nation’s highest court.

But during the oral arguments last month, justices questioned the schools’ free-speech claims.

Chief Justice John Roberts said that the schools only continued to permit the military on campus because they were “willing to take the money.”

“What you’re saying is that here is a message we believe in strongly, but we don’t believe in it to the detriment of $100 million,” he said. He added that giving an employer access to campus does not imply an endorsement of that employer’s message.

But E. Joshua Rosenkranz, a lawyer for the firm Heller Ehrman LLP, which represented the law schools in their suit, argued before the court that the Solomon Amendment required schools to send conflicting messages to students.

“There is the military’s message, which the schools are interpreting as, `Uncle Sam does not want you,’ and there is the school’s message, which is, `We do not abet those who discriminate,” he said. “That is immoral.”

Rosenkranz also argued that threatening the law schools with the loss of federal funds damages the credibility of their nondiscriminatory policies and forces the schools to associate themselves with the military’s message.

Georgetown law professor Chai Feldblum created the task force three years ago that formed the basis for the current FAIR. She said that Roberts was right to assert that the schools had a financial as well as philosophical stake in striking down the law, though she said this represents an inherently unfair aspect of the Solomon Amendment.

“A law school’s desired message that . discrimination is wrong is muddied when they have to backpedal on the message because of the pressure of federal money,” Feldblum said.

Sharon E. Frase, an associate to Heller Ehrman LLP, added that it was unconstitutional for the government to withhold funds to gain access for the military.

“You can’t force someone to advocate something they don’t want to support,” she said. “The government is trying to place financial conditions [so that the law schools] have to give up one of their rights.”

During the oral arguments, however, Solicitor General Paul Clement argued on behalf of the Defense Department that the military only seeks to receive access equal to that given any other employer.

“We don’t ask for any predetermined level,” Clement said. “Once you let us on campus, just give us and extend us an opportunity to recruit on the same terms as others.”

He acknowledged, however, that some schools could choose to deny campus access to other organizations not protected by the Solomon Amendment.

The Supreme Court is not expected to rule in the case until July. If the court decides to rule in favor of the military, the law schools would not be able to ban military recruiters without losing all federal funding.

Despite indications that the court seemed to favor the military’s claims, Frase said that it is too early to “count your chickens.”

“[That] the people on the bench who . appeared to be supporting the military were very active and vocal in the questioning doesn’t mean that the whole panel would resolve in one side,” she said.

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