Merrick Garland Received Student Deferments to Avoid Vietnam War Draft

Obama Supreme Court pick helped keep ROTC ban in place at Harvard

Merrick Garland
Merrick Garland / AP

Merrick Garland was not eligible to be drafted into military service while he was a student at Harvard University as he took two student deferments during the Vietnam War, according to a copy of Garland's Selective Service record obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Garland, President Obama's pick to be put on the U.S. Supreme Court, was granted two student deferments while he was at Harvard, one on Aug. 19, 1971, and another on Dec. 10, 1971. Both were categorized as 2-S deferments which indicate that the "registrant deferred because of activity in study," according to the record.

He received a third deferment in February 1973 noting that the he was "not currently subject to processing for induction," as the military had transitioned into an all-volunteer force that no longer drafted men through the Selective Service.

Garland was a member of Harvard's class of 1974, which was the last class that was eligible to receive the 2-S student deferment, according to a 1971 report in the Harvard Crimson. Freshmen in the class below Garland were designated "available for service" despite their enrollment at the university.

Though there is nothing out of the ordinary about Garland's deferments, other students at Harvard took action to serve their country even as they pursued an education. The Harvard Crimson reported that some students took a semester off to enroll in the National Guard which would commit them to a short four-to-six-month tour of duty and continued service during summer vacations.

Other students commuted to nearby Worcester Polytechnic Institute to enroll in its Reserve Officer Training Corps program, which allowed students to stay in school until they graduated and receive military training throughout. They were forced to commute because ROTC had been banned from Harvard's campus in 1969.

The ban was instituted the year before Garland arrived on campus, but he became heavily involved in it as a student government leader in 1973 when he initiated formal debate on a campus referendum on the ROTC ban, according to an in-depth report from the Boston Globe.

Garland was pushed to initiate debate by a radical anti-war campus group called the New American Movement and said at the time that he was confident he could get a referendum to occur. With the tide of anti-Vietnam War activism at Harvard, the campus referendum would have led to a continuation of the ROTC ban.

The referendum never happened. Afraid of a potential referendum against ROTC, the administration made clear that it had no plans to ease the ROTC ban. In return Garland voted to scuttle the referendum vote on a provisional basis as long as the administration did not propose lifting the ban, according to the Globe's description.

"Garland, therefore, managed to bring up the idea of holding a referendum, which put pressure on the protest-weary Harvard administration, and then also participated in blocking it to avoid further inflaming a divisive campus fight," wrote the Globe's Annie Linskey.

A classmate of Garland that worked with him on the issue in student government told the Globe that Garland made clear to the administration "that the refusal to hold a referendum is provisional" and that "discussion of the issue will revive instantly if the faculty starts to move" toward bringing the ROTC program back.

A copy of a flyer circulated in support of the referendum that Garland used to leverage the administration against ROTC offers a glimpse into the radical anti-military views of the New American Movement.

"NAM opposes the return of ROTC under any conditions," wrote the flyer, which can be viewed below. "The war in Indochina may have wound down, but the role of the military has not … We must continue to unite to oppose all forms of university complicity with the Pentagon."

NAM ROTC Referendum Flyer by Washington Free Beacon

Garland was the student who put NAM's referendum on the student government's agenda.

NAM was not only radical in terms of its anti-war agenda.

NAM published an essay on Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Harvard professor who would later be elected as a Democrat to the U.S. Senate, in which it celebrated the economic equality that had been achieved in communist China.

"Although perfect democracy may still be a long way away on the timetable of history, social equality is not, as evidenced by the high indices of economic equality in the communist nations, particularly China and Cuba," wrote NAM, which attacked Moynihan for his "concentrated attack on equality."

The ROTC ban at Harvard was eventually lifted in 2012.