WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled 8-0 today that colleges that accept federal money must allow military recruiters on campus, despite university objections to the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays.
Justices rejected a free-speech challenge from law-school professors who claimed they should not be forced to associate with military recruiters or promote their campus appearances.
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the Court in Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, 04-1152, called the campus visits an effective military recruiting tool.
"A military recruiter's mere presence on campus does not violate a law school's right to associate, regardless of how repugnant the law school considers the recruiter's message," he wrote.
Law schools had become the latest battleground over the "don't ask, don't tell" policy allowing gay men and women to serve in the military only if they keep their sexual orientation to themselves.
Many universities forbid the participation of recruiters from public agencies and private companies that have discriminatory policies.
The Court's decision upholds a law that requires colleges that take federal money to accommodate recruiters.
Roberts, writing his third decision since joining the Court last fall, said there were other, less-drastic options for protesting the policy. "Students and faculty are free to associate to voice their disapproval of the military's message," he wrote.
"Recruiters are, by definition, outsiders who come onto campus for the limited purpose of trying to hire students — not to become members of the school's expressive association," he wrote.
The federal law, known as the Solomon Amendment after its first congressional sponsor, mandates that universities give the military the same access as other recruiters or forfeit federal money.
College leaders have said they could not afford to lose federal help, some $35 billion a year.
When the Solomon Amendment was passed in 1994, many law schools gave military recruiters limited access. Harvard allowed the military on campus but declined to volunteer its career-placement staff to arrange interviews. The University of Southern California, meanwhile, allowed recruiters to interview but didn't invite them to school-sponsored job fairs off campus.
But after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Pentagon began strictly enforcing the measure. In the summer of 2003, Congress amended the Solomon Amendment to require equal access.
Since then, law schools have grudgingly complied but also filed lawsuits challenging the law. Last year, a federal judge in Bridgeport, Conn., ruled Yale Law School had a right to bar military recruiters from its job interview program, and similar cases were pending elsewhere.
The Court heard arguments in the case in December, and justices signaled then that they had little problem with the law.
Roberts filed the only opinion, which was joined by every justice but Samuel Alito. Alito did not participate because he was not on the bench when the case was argued.
"The Solomon Amendment neither limits what law schools may say nor requires them to say anything," Roberts wrote.