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How Elena Kagan worked to limit military recruiting at Harvard

Elena Kagan, Supreme Court nominee, said she 'abhorred' the Pentagon's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy banning gays from serving openly. In her confirmation hearings, critics will focus on her efforts to limit military recruiting at Harvard.

By Staff writer / June 25, 2010

Elena Kagan, Supreme Court nominee, will appear before a Senate panel for her confimation hearings this coming week. Critics will focus on her role as Harvard Law School dean when she resisted having military recruiters on campus.

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Some of the toughest questions Elena Kagan will face in her Supreme Court confirmation hearings this coming week will focus on her actions during the military recruiting controversy while she was dean of Harvard Law School.

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The issue does not lend itself to 10-second sound-bite questions or responses. But it is an area that could reveal something important about Ms. Kagan and what kind of Supreme Court justice she might become.

In 2004, Kagan barred military recruiters from using the law school’s office of career services to meet with students interested in military service. She took the action to enforce the school’s longtime policy of shunning prospective employers who discriminate based on sexual orientation.

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The action was controversial because it came at a time when the United States was at war in both Iraq and Afghanistan. By November 2004, 1,410 coalition forces had died in Iraq, and 196 had been killed in Afghanistan.

To many Americans – including those with family and friends on overseas deployments – any effort to restrict military recruitment endangers US service members and the country.

In her statement announcing that military recruiters would be barred from the school’s office of career services, Kagan said: “I am gratified by this result, and I look forward to the time when all law students have the opportunity to pursue any legal career they desire.”

White House: Recruiters always had access

Immediately after her Supreme Court nomination was announced, the White House moved to counter queries on military recruiting with a coordinated response: At no time were recruiters barred from the law school campus.

Administration officials and other Kagan supporters stressed that a student veterans group agreed to help facilitate student access to military recruiters during this period.

The clear suggestion was that Kagan’s policy change had no real impact on military recruiters. But the recent release of 850 pages of Defense Department documents tells a different story.

Polite and patient military recruiters were told by Harvard officials to call back later. They received this response again, and again, for weeks until the recruiting season had ended.

“The Army was stonewalled at Harvard. Phone calls and emails went unanswered,” an Army recruiter said in a March 2005 memo. “The [career services director] refused to inform students that we were coming to recruit and the [career services director] refused to collect resumes or provide any other assistance.”

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