Durbin Defends Kagan After Veteran Compares Military Recruiter Restrictions to Segregation

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Thursday, July 01, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) today defended Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s restriction of military recruiters’ access at Harvard Law School after a veteran testified that the restrictions were akin to segregation.

Retired Army Capt. Flagg Youngblood, military outreach director for Young America’s Foundation, testified that “‘separate but equal’ is, quite simply, not equal.” He compared Kagan’s restrictions to tactics used prior to the civil rights movement to segregate blacks in restaurants and other public facilities.

“Imagine Dean Kagan on a lunch counter,” Youngblood said. “What she said to the military was, in effect, ‘Sure, you’re welcome here but would you be so kind as to use the back door by the garbage? You don’t mind eating in the kitchen do you?’”

Youngblood has criticized Kagan before for her decision to deny military recruiters access to the school’s career services office, while allowing them access through other channels, as a way to protest the military’s implementation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He has knocked her over the issue for more than a year in pieces that have appeared in The Washington Times and other publications.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) has also compared the recruitment restrictions to pre-civil rights era segregation over the course of the hearings, at one point referring to Kagan’s policy as “separate, but equal.”

Kagan said during her testimony Wednesday that the restriction was a compromise that allowed her to honor the school’s non-discrimination policy while also adhering to laws that require schools that receive federal funds to give access to military recruiters. She and supporters on the committee have noted that the military’s recruitment at Harvard Law School remained steady, and even increased for a period of time.

Army National Guard Capt. Pete Hegseth, speaking in his role as executive director of Vets for Freedom, said the increase might have been larger had Kagan not restricted access.

“Let’s be clear about that,” he said. “It increased in spite of Ms. Kagan, not because of her.”

Later in the session with Youngblood, Durbin turned the segregation comparison around by bringing up Rep. Charlie Rangel’s (D-N.Y.) service in the armed forces during the Korean War as a result of Harry Truman’s efforts to desegregate the military. He then told Youngblood he thought Kagan’s actions were an example of speaking out against discrimination.

Updated at 7:42 p.m.

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