In the wake of President Obama’s nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court, one of the central lines of attack by conservatives has been to falsely claim that Kagan “banned” military recruiters from Harvard Law School when she was dean. In fact, Kagan briefly continued an existing policy of preventing the military from using the school’s Office of Career (OCS), but never barred recruiters from campus, allowing them to operate through the school’s Veterans Association during her entire tenure.
On his Fox News show last night, Sean Hannity repeated the myth, saying that Kagan tried to “kick off military recruiters from a college campus in this case Harvard.” When Hannity asked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for his reaction, McCain added a new falsehood to the right wing’s false Kagan narrative, suggesting that Harvard’s general policy on ROTC was a result of Kagan’s efforts:
HANNITY: Your reaction to her? Are you likely at this point to support, not support?
MCCAIN: Well, I’ll give the process a chance to work its way through. But I am still outraged. You know the members of the ROTC at Harvard had to go to MIT to do their training. Now here’s a school — the Harvard Law School can produce all of our Supreme Court justices, but Harvard will not allow recruiters to help young men and women serve their country in uniform.
Later in the interview, McCain repeated the contention that Kagan is somehow responsible for ROTC members at Harvard training at MIT. “I am deeply offended that a school that models itself as the finest in the nation, at least they claim that, would not allow recruiters to come on their campus and ROTC to be conducted on their campus,” said McCain. Watch it:
In 1969, Harvard did ask ROTC to leave campus, primarily out of opposition to the Vietnam war. But starting in 1971, “Harvard students have been allowed to enroll in the MIT ROTC program” and “Harvard course credit is given for ROTC-related courses that receive MIT credit.” The policy has changed over the years and Harvard “now allows the small number of its students who participate in the program at nearby MIT to be commissioned as officers in Harvard Yard upon graduation” and “allows cadets to include their ROTC affiliation in yearbooks.”
As part of the confirmation process for solicitor general, Kagan explained in response to a question by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) that she had no input on Harvard’s ROTC policy:
• As dean of Harvard Law School, your decision to restrict military recruiters’ access to students was limited to career services. Does your personal opposition to the Solomon Amendment mean that you also support barring the ROTC from college campuses?
• As dean of the law school, did you ever express objection to the exclusion of the ROTC from Harvard?
Answer: As dean of Harvard Law School, I felt a responsibility to apply and defend the School’s longstanding nondiscrimination policy, which prohibits our Office of Career Services from assisting any organization (not just the military) that discriminates in employment. At the same time, I worked to ensure that military recruiters in fact had available an alternative and effective method of access to our students. My statements and actions defending the Law School’s general nondiscrimination policy did not sweep more broadly. The position I took does not entail a view on the exclusion of ROTC from college campuses, and I never expressed a position on the exclusion of ROTC from Harvard.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed pushing back against right-wing claims that Kagan is “anti-military,” former Harvard Law School dean Robert Clark writes that “Outside observers may disagree with the moral and policy judgments made by those at Harvard Law School. But it would be very wrong to portray Elena Kagan as hostile to the U.S. military. Quite the opposite is true.” It’s even more wrong to use a policy with which she had nothing to do to paint her as anti-military, but that’s what McCain did on Hannity’s show last night.