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Dean Eduardo Peñalver's Statement on Military Recruitment at Cornell Law

Cornell Law School’s commitment to diversity goes back to A.D. White’s founding vision of providing “the most highly prized instruction . . . to all, regardless of sex or color.”  Our non-discrimination policy, with which employers who use Law School facilities in recruiting must comply, states that “Cornell Law School is committed to a policy against discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, age, or handicap.” This policy prohibits discrimination against our transgender students.

On June 30, 2016, then-Secretary of Defense Carter announced that, “[e]ffective immediately, transgender Americans may serve openly [in the United States military].”  On July 26, 2017, President Trump tweeted that “the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”  In guidance issued by the Department of Defense on September 18, 2017, Secretary of Defense Mattis confirmed that transgender persons will no longer be permitted to join the military, pending a review of how to implement the President’s directive.  However, federal court rulings in four separate cases have issued injunctions last fall that allowed for transgender recruits to start enlisting on January 1.

Advocacy organizations decry the Trump administration’s continued efforts to keep transgender individuals from serving.  In June, the Department of Justice filed a motion to overturn one of the injunctions. Despite the injunction, applicants report requests for ever more detailed medical documentation, effectively stalling the enlistment process.

An actual or effective ban on transgender individuals serving in the military in any capacity is antithetical to our deepest held beliefs and to the bedrock principle of equal justice under the law.  A categorical prohibition of military service by transgender people, regardless of their qualifications, is lacking in any rational basis and is the epitome of invidious discrimination.

We believe that military service is honorable public service.  We also believe that any qualified individual who is willing to do so should be able to serve in our nation’s military.

Under normal circumstances, employers who refused to comply with the Law School’s nondiscrimination policy would be denied access to our facilities.  The military is nonetheless being permitted to interview at the Law School pursuant to federal legislation known as the Solomon Amendment, which allows the Secretary of Defense to deny federal funding to any educational institution that prohibits military recruitment on campus.

We continue to support and respect those talented and capable Cornell Law Students who choose careers in the United States military.  We nonetheless deplore this unprecedented step backwards in the progress towards greater tolerance and inclusion in our nation’s military.

If you have any questions or concerns about the Law School’s position or need additional support please see Dean Akyea in the Office of Public Service.

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