The U.S. Military Academy at West Point was slapped with a federal lawsuit Tuesday over race being considered a factor in admissions following the Supreme Court’s ruling against affirmation action.
The lawsuit, brought by the group Students for Fair Admissions in the Southern District of New York, accuses West Point of setting benchmarks for how many Black, Hispanic and Asian cadets there should be in each class, a practice that arguably violates the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which contains an equal-protection principle that binds the federal government.
“Instead of admitting future cadets based on objective metrics and leadership potential, West Point focuses on race,” according to the complaint. “In fact, it openly publishes its racial composition ‘goals,’ and its director of admissions brags that race is wholly determinative for hundreds if not thousands of applicants.”
“For most of its history, West Point has evaluated cadets based on merit and achievement,” the lawsuit says, claiming that the culture has shifted over the past several decades.
In response to the filing, West Point said in a prepared statement that it “does not comment on ongoing litigation to protect the integrity of its outcome for all parties involved.”
The lawsuit comes after the Supreme Court in June struck down affirmative action in college admissions, forcing institutions of higher education to look for new ways to achieve diverse student bodies. The court’s conservative majority invalidated admissions plans at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, the nation’s oldest private and public colleges, respectively.
That ruling did not cover West Point and the nation’s other military academies. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in a footnote on the majority opinion that the Supreme Court was not deciding one way or another regarding affirmation action at military academies because of “the potentially distinct interests that military academies may present.”
“For the United States military, as I’ve explained, having a diverse officer corps is a critical national security imperative,” Elizabeth Prelogar, the U.S. Solicitor General, stated during oral arguments before the Supreme Court in the Harvard and North Carolina cases, according to The New York Times.
Students for Fair Admissions pushed back against the argument in favor of race-based preferences in admissions at military academies bolstering national security by creating a pipeline of officers to coincide with the demographic composition of the enlisted troops and the population at large.
They argue the precedent is unjustly connected to the outdated circumstances of the unpopular Vietnam War. The Vietnam War was fought by drafted soldiers, and the Times notes, because just 3% of officers were African American by the end of the conflict, racial tensions harmed morale across the ranks.
But as of 2020, 27% of Army officers were members of a racial minority, and 12.3% were Black, representing about 1 percentage point less than the Black share of the national population, according to an amicus brief filed by a group of veterans in support of the plaintiffs in the Harvard case.
The U.S. military does not have a draft in effect and is currently all voluntary service. Tuesday’s lawsuit, which also names the Department of Defense, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and other officials, notes West Point produces about 17% of newly commissioned Army officers each year.
Edward Blum, president of Students for Fair Admissions, said in a prepared statement that with the recent high court decision, “it must follow that the U.S. military’s higher education institutions must end their race-based policies as well.”
“Over the years, courts have been mindful of the military’s unique role in our nation’s life and the distinctive considerations that come with it,” Blum said. “However, no level of deference justifies these polarizing and disliked racial classifications and preferences in admissions to West Point or any of our service academies.”
West Point in recent years has made concerted efforts to diversify its ranks, with officials increasing outreach to metropolitan areas like New York City, Atlanta and Detroit. Minority enrollment was about 38% for the class of more than 1,240 that entered the academy north of New York City this summer. The academy also recently complied with recommendations from a commission created by Congress to remove honors to Robert E. Lee and other Confederate officers as a way to address racial injustice.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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