JAGged edge in HLS policy

BY LIEUTENANT COLUMNIST)

I was saddened last month when I read about the Third Circuit’s decision allowing universities to bar military recruiters from their campuses. And I was disturbed when I read about the immediate reaction from Harvard Law School’s Dean to once again make it difficult for HLS students to learn about serving in the United States military in the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps. After conversations with officials within the administration, I believe this decision was based on flat-out wrong and misleading information about what it means to serve in the JAG Corps and what we do as JAG attorneys.

HLS’s spreading of this misinformation has been going on for years. Early in my 1L year, I told an adviser in the Office of Public Interest Advising that I was interested in joining the JAG Corps. That adviser in the public interest office tried to talk me out of pursuing this job in the public realm. “You don’t want to use your law degree to go after gays,” she said. “Do you?” Over the next two years, the JAG recruiters I brought on campus were usually greeted by protestors, some carrying signs that said “JAGs hunt gays.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

I understand that many people at HLS disagree with the military’s “don’t ask-don’t tell” policy. However, despite the misinformation spread at law schools like HLS, the military cannot initiate an investigation solely to determine a service member’s sexual orientation. Further, criminal investigations or charges cannot be brought merely for private, homosexual conduct between two consenting adults. Members can be separated from the military for such behavior, but the vast majority of these “administrative discharge” cases – over 80 percent – are initiated by the service member approaching his or her chain-of-command, voluntarily identifying him or herself as gay, and asking to leave the military. Service members separated under this policy receive honorable discharges, general discharges under honorable conditions, or uncharacterized discharges (separations of enlisted members in their first 180 days of military service are generally uncharacterized). Military regulations forbid discharging service members based on “rumor, suspicion, or capricious claims concerning a member’s sexual orientation.” In other words, contrary to some of the misinformation that has been spread over the years at law schools like HLS, service members are not investigated or prosecuted upon mere suspicion of being homosexual.

Moreover, in each of these administrative discharge cases, the service member is detailed a military counsel – a JAG – to advocate on his or her behalf. In fact, in each and every administrative discharge and criminal case, service members are entitled to a free military defense counsel, i.e. lawyers in the JAG Corps. By barring JAGs from recruiting on campus, HLS makes it harder for the military to recruit all its lawyers, including defense attorneys. It seems odd that the school would want to deprive service members of the highest quality advocates during their times of need.

HLS, by barring students from access to information about the JAG Corps, has also shown that it is, in fact, not a champion of the 1st Amendment or the ideals behind it. HLS clearly does not trust its students to ask questions about the policy and life in the military, get the information, and make an empowered decision for themselves about their careers. For some reason, the school does not want its students to have access to information or to learn the details about a policy it has taken a stand against.

Which brings us to another point – if HLS is so intent on changing a policy in the United States military, wouldn’t it make more sense to encourage like-minded students to join the military and change the policy from within? And rather than punish service members in need of legal service – and deprive HLS students from learning about a job option – wouldn’t it make more sense for the HLS administration to use its resources to lobby the policy-makers in Washington to change the policy?

Instead, HLS is discouraging its students from learning about an exciting, fulfilling job option in the public interest realm. In addition to criminal law, JAGs also have the option to work in international law, labor law, environmental law, and a host of other areas. Every day, JAGs provide advice on rules of engagement to commanders in combat situations, perform legal assistance for struggling military members, and prosecute and defend serious criminal matters. JAGs are stationed around the globe and get to experience both the cultures of the world and camaraderie on base.

And as a JAG attorney, you get to do this exciting work while serving your country, while being a part of something bigger than yourself.

It’s a shame that the HLS administration has decided to make it harder to learn about this exciting and satisfying career option. I encourage interested students to ask student groups, like SPIN or the Veterans Association, to bring JAG Officers to campus to speak – when I was co-President of SPIN, we did this several times a year. I am more than happy to help organize such visits.

All students should have the chance to ask questions, get information, and decide for themselves whether serving in the United State military is a noble and worthwhile career. The HLS Administration shouldn’t be making that decision for them.

Lieutenant Jonathan Freimann graduated in 2001 and was co-President of Student Public Interest Network from 1999-2000. The views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not reflect the official policy or views of the Department of Defense or Department of the Navy.

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