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Obama Supreme Court Nominee’s College Record May Show Anti-Military Bent

Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland is facing allegations he is hostile to the military, after The Boston Globe unearthed details of his involvement with an anti-military effort during his days at Harvard University.

In 1973, Garland was a member of Harvard’s Committee on Housing and Undergraduate Life (CHUL), a student government body, when student activists launched an effort to hold a school-wide referendum on the subject of allowing the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) back on campus.

Opposition to the Vietnam War resulted in many schools, including Harvard, banning ROTC from campus. Even after America’s involvement in Vietnam ended, the bans remained in place at many schools, with student and faculty critics using issues such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to justify the continuation. Harvard only welcomed ROTC back on campus in 2012.

When Garland arrived at Harvard in 1970, ROTC had already been banned for a year. But in 1973, Harvard University President Derek Bok called for ending the ban, reigniting the issue. The New American Movement (NAM), a student socialist group, launched a petition drive in opposition to Bok’s proposal and collected over 2,500 signatures. The group also asked CHUL to conduct a campuswide vote on the matter, with the likely expectation that the vote among students would be overwhelmingly hostile to welcoming back ROTC.

Garland soon became involved in the matter: He was the member of CHUL who put forward the potential referendum for consideration, and at the time he said the odds were “pretty good” that CHUL would agree to hold it.

The vote was never held, though. Instead, Harvard administrators pledged that ROTC’s return was not being seriously considered, and CHUL agreed to drop the matter as long as Harvard agreed to provide a warning if ending the ROTC ban was considered in the future.

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Garland’s own opinion throughout the situation remains unclear. The Boston Globe cites a “person familiar with the judge’s thinking” to say that Garland had no settled view on the campus ROTC question, but that certainly won’t stop speculation that he may have broadly supported the anti-ROTC push. The referendum that NAM was pushing, and that Garland officially proposed, was clearly expected to show a strong rejection of ROTC and was intended to pressure Harvard against allowing the military back, and the vote was only canceled after Garland and the rest of CHUL received strong assurances that ROTC was in no danger of returning.

But much like with Garland’s judicial record, which is lacking in strongly-worded rulings on contentious issues, the evidence of Garland’s personal views is very limited.

Garland himself hasn’t commented on the matter, reflecting the traditional refusal of Supreme Court nominees to grant media interviews. The only way for him to weigh in would likely be for Republicans to hold confirmation hearings in the Senate. Thus far, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed not to do so, but some moderate Republicans have already suggested Garland’s nomination should be considered.

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