The group that won a major Supreme Court victory against affirmative action in June sued the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on Tuesday, arguing that the court’s ruling banning college admissions based on race should extend to colleges as well. military academies of the country.
The group, Students for Fair Admissions, was the driving force behind the lawsuit that led the Supreme Court to overturn racially motivated admissions at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, a decision that has affected college programs. Admission to colleges and universities around the world. country.
But the court specifically excluded military academies, including West Point, the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy, from its decision that affirmative action in college admissions could not be reconciled with the Constitution’s equal protection guarantees. . In a footnote to the majority opinion, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that the court was not ruling one way or the other on the academies, because of “the potentially different interests that the military academies can present.”
That footnote created an opportunity for a new round of litigation, and Students for Fair Admissions took advantage of it.
“For most of its history, West Point has evaluated cadets based on merit and achievement,” the group said in its complaint, filed Tuesday in the Southern District of New York. But that changed, the group argued, in recent decades.
“Instead of admitting future cadets based on objective metrics and leadership potential, West Point focuses on race,” the complaint says, accusing the academy of practices that violate the Fifth Amendment, which it says “contains a principle of equal protection that binds the federal government and is no less strict than the Equal Protection Clause that binds the states.”
Any ruling in the case would likely apply to the other service academies as well.
A West Point spokeswoman said the academy would not comment on the litigation “to protect the integrity of its outcome for all parties.”
The complaint revives a long-running debate over whether national security depends on allowing military academies to use racial preferences to develop a pool of officers that reflects the demographic makeup of enlisted troops and the general population.
The argument has been a feature of previous Supreme Court cases, dating back at least to Grutter v. Bollinger, a 2003 decision upholding racially motivated admissions at the University of Michigan Law School, which was the leading precedent on affirmative action until this year.
An amicus brief filed in that case by former high-ranking officers and civilian military leaders argued that the percentage of African-American officers who served in the Vietnam War was so small (just 3 percent at the end of the war) that it damaged the morale and increased racial tension in the ranks.
“For the United States military, as I have explained, having a diverse officer corps is a critical national security imperative,” said US Attorney General Elizabeth Prelogar during oral arguments before the Supreme Court in the Harvard cases. and North Carolina.
Students for Fair Admissions said in its complaint that this view is rooted in particular circumstances of the Vietnam War (an unpopular war, fought by conscripted soldiers) that no longer apply.
An amicus brief filed in support of the plaintiffs in the Harvard case by a veterans group notes that the composition of the military has changed significantly since the Vietnam War. In 2020, 27 percent of military officers were members of a racial minority and 12.3 percent were black, only about 1 percentage point lower than the black share of the national population. And the army is now entirely voluntary, with no draft in effect.
The complaint uses the recent Supreme Court decision as a roadmap. For example, the court faulted Harvard and North Carolina for racial stereotyping and not having meaningful endpoints for their affirmative action programs, and the complaint accuses West Point of the same.
According to an amicus brief the Biden administration filed in support of Harvard and North Carolina, white service members make up 53 percent of the active-duty military overall, but 73 percent of officers; Black service members make up 18 percent of the active force but 8 percent of officers. About one in five officers comes from the service academies.
According to West Point’s website, its newly enrolled class of 2027 is about 10 percent Black, 11 percent Hispanic, 14 percent Asian American and 1 percent Native American.
In an all-volunteer military, seeking parity between the officer corps and the enlisted corps is an ever-changing goal, “amounting to a declaration that West Point will never stop using race in admissions,” the complaint says , adding that the claim that parity is necessary to foster trust “is based on crude and infantilizing stereotypes.”
Others said it was too easy to dismiss racial conflicts within the military as a solved problem.
“The U.S. military was relatively ahead of the rest of society in implementing what we today call diversity, equity and inclusion programs,” lamented John W. Hall, a 1994 West Point graduate and professor of U.S. military history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. . “There is considerable risk associated with revoking those policies.”