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U.S. Naval Academy Sued Over Use of Race in Admissions

U.S. Naval Academy Sued Over Use of Race in Admissions

Students for Fair Admissions strikes again, this time suing the U.S. Naval Academy, in addition to West Point, over race-based admissions

in late June the United States Supreme Court ruled that universities cannot use “affirmative action,” or considerations of race, in their admissions policies: Supreme Court: Harvard and UNC Affirmative Action “invalidated under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment”

The U.S. Supreme Court has dealt a blow to race-based affirmative action in college admissions and by implication elsewhere, putting to an end a narrow carve-out for higher education that had permitted colleges and universities to engage in otherwise unlawful conduct in the name of promoting diversity.

As Chief Justice John Roberts stated:

the Harvard and UNC admissions programs cannot be reconciled with the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause. Both programs lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful end points. We have never permitted admissions programs to work in that way, and we will not do so today.

But, as we covered here: The Supreme Court Should Apply Its Affirmative Action Ruling to Military Academies, there is an innocuous footnote near the beginning of the Court’s Affirmative Action opinion, stating that the opinion does not apply to the military academies:

The United States as amicus curiae contends that race-based admissions programs further compelling interests at our Nation’s military academies. No military academy is a party to these cases, however, and none of the courts below addressed the propriety of race-based admissions systems in that context. This opinion also does not address the issue, in light of the potentially distinct interests that military academies may present.

We explained that

“[p]rocedurally, of course, the Court is completely correct that the opinion cannot, and must not, apply to the military academies, because none of the parties briefed the Court on the unique status of the military academies as educational, and more importantly, national defense institutions. And federal courts, at any level, must only address the issues between the parties in the case, and are not authorized to issue “advisory opinions.” “[J]udicial power, as we have seen, is the right to determine actual controversies arising between adverse litigants, duly instituted in courts of proper jurisdiction.” Muskrat v. United States, 219 U.S. 346, 361 (1911).

Most importantly, however, we explained that legally, or substantively, as lawyers say, the opinion must apply to the service academies “because the use of race in admissions is equally ‘odious’ in the case of civilian or military institutions of higher education, but [also] has far-reaching extremely negative national security implications in the case of the service academies.”

So, why should the Supreme Court’s Affirmative Action opinion apply to the service academies? The answer lies in an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief file by an organization in the Harvard and UNC cases called “Veterans for Fairness and Merit,” which “is a 501(c)(19) veteran’s organization with over 600 members, most of whom served in combat, including 21 recipients of the Medal of Honor and recipients of over 900 other combat valor awards, 45 former POWs, and 121 retired general officers.” From the brief, which is available here:

[O]ur nation’s military culture was built on the principle of “selfless service” as part of an enlightened warrior ethos. Civilians, to become effective warriors, must acquire more than just the knowledge and technical training necessary to become effective warfighters on a lethal and unforgiving battlefield. Equally essential is that they undergo a significant and unnatural cultural transformation—one that includes a conscious, disciplined subordination of self, including of sub-group identities such as heritage, ethnicity and race—and assimilation to the norms of the organization. Subordination is not to be confused with abandonment. The warfighter must develop the capacity to put, sometimes for extended periods, self-interest completely out of mind. He/she must be able to trust every teammate as fully sharing that selfless culture, unreservedly committed to the organization and its mission, and to serving others without being concerned with self. Anything less is corrosive to the unit cohesion that, on the battlefield, can make the difference between life and death and mission success or failure.

This culture requires that each warfighter see fellow warfighters as totally committed teammates, where race, ethnicity and heritage, while respected, do not matter. Some refer to that element of the culture as being “colorblind,” an imprecise term, but one that is often heard in military circles.

This selfless-servant, “colorblind” culture is a national security imperative that is seriously weakened by racial preferences. As Sun Tzu said two thousand years ago, “he will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.” Our warfighters are thus expected to ignore racial and other differences to be maximally effective on the battlefield. When bullets are flying and mortar shells landing, warfighters cannot and do not care about the race of their buddy or of their leaders. They must be (and are) willing to risk their lives for another warfighter, regardless of skin color.

I could not have said it better myself.

More recently, in late September we reported that the same group that had won the case against Harvard at the U.S. Supreme Court, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), had sued West Point: Student Group that Won Affirmative Action Case Against Harvard and UNC Sues West Point for its Race-Based Admissions Policy:

I am happy to report that Students for Fair Admissions, the same group that sued Harvard and UNC, has now sued West Point.

From the Daily Caller: Student Group Sues West Point Over Race-Based Admissions:

Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) filed a lawsuit against the military academy West Point Tuesday alleging that the school is violating the Fifth Amendment’s equal protection clause by using race-based admissions policies.

“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,” Edward Blum, president of SFFA said in a press release. “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.”

A West Point spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation that the academy doesn’t comment on pending litigation “to protect the integrity of its outcome for all parties involved.“

The lawsuit argues that instead of basing admissions on “objective metrics and leadership potential” the academy’s administrators had instead opted for discriminating on the basis of race. It notes the school’s “benchmarks” for the amount of students in each class that should be made up of “African Americans,” “Hispanics,” and “Asians.”

“Because skin color can be—and often is—a decisive factor for successful applicants who are chosen from those congressional nominee pools, it is equally dispositive for the other qualified nominees who are turned away,” SFFA argues. “Put differently, because race is a ‘positive’ factor for some West Point applicants, it is necessarily a ‘negative’ factor for others.”

SFFA criticized the military’s justification for the racial quotas, saying that these kinds of policies insinuate that all minorities think alike. The lawsuit also dismissed the academy’s claim that these policies were needed in order to gain legitimacy in a “diverse nation,” noting that a country’s military should not be considered trustworthy only because of its racial make up.

And now, Students for Fair Admissions has struck again – this time suing the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. From Higher Ed Dive: Naval Academy sued over race-conscious admissions policies:

  • The U.S. Naval Academy is facing a lawsuit over its race-conscious admissions from the same legal group that successfully brought down these types of policies in the landmark case the U.S. Supreme Court decided this year.
  • This is the second complaint that Students for Fair Admissions, or SFFA, has filed against a military academy. SFFA is also seeking to overturn policies at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, arguing in both cases that the academies illegally consider race in admissions.
  • The lawsuit against the Naval Academy was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. An academy spokesperson said Friday it does not comment on pending litigation.

The twin lawsuits against the military academies aim to capitalize on SFFA’s June victory at the high court, which struck down race-conscious policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

That opinion threw out decades of legal precedent enabling colleges to factor race into the admissions process.

However, it specifically exempted military academies….

U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, who represented the Biden administration during the Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill cases, argued before the Supreme Court a year ago that ensuring diverse armed forces is a “national security imperative.”

“Our armed forces know from hard experience that when we do not have a diverse officer corps that is broadly reflective of a diverse fighting force, our strength and cohesion and military readiness suffer,” Prelogar said.

You can review SFFA’s Complaint against the Naval Academy here:

Of special importance, SFFA, in both cases against the service academies, has moved the courts for preliminary injunctions. These motions, if granted, would cause an immediate halt to the service academies’ use of race in admissions.

The preliminary injunction motions are supported by memoranda of law, which provide important reasons for the courts to grant the requested injunctions banning the use of race in admissions, from the SFFA memorandum of law in the Naval Academy lawsuit:

For most of its history, the Academy has evaluated midshipmen based on merit and achievement. For good reasons: America’s enemies do not fight differently based on the race of the commanding officer opposing them, sailors must follow orders without regard to the skin color of those giving them, and battlefield realities apply equally to all sailors regardless of race, ethnicity, or national origin. To that end, President Truman desegregated the military well before other institutions followed suit. See Executive Order 9981 (July 26, 1948) (“[T]here shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed forces without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.”).

Yet the Academy has strayed from that approach. Instead of admitting midshipmen solely on leadership potential and objective metrics—the Academy stopped requiring applicants to submit standardized scores three years ago—the Academy focuses on race.

The Academy has no justification for using race-based admissions. Those admissions are unconstitutional for all other public institutions of higher education. Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard Coll., 143 S. Ct. 2141 (2023) (“SFFA”). The Academy is not exempt from the Constitution. See, e.g., Crawford v. Cushman, 531 F.2d 1114, 1120 (2d Cir. 1976) (“A succession of cases in this circuit and others ha[s] reiterated the proposition that the military is subject to the Bill of Rights and its constitutional implications.”).

You can review the entire memorandum of law supporting SFFA’s motion for preliminary injunction here:

The Naval Academy has until December 1 to respond to SFFA’s motion for preliminary injunction, and SFFA can, if it chooses to, file a reply to the Academy’s response by December 8.

The court in Maryland will hold a hearing on the motion on “either Thursday, December 14, 2023 at 11:00 AM, or Monday, December 18,  2023 at 11:00 AM, to be confirmed by further correspondence of this Court.” See the court’s order here.

Interestingly, the same sort of schedule is playing out in the West Point case, and the court in that case has set a hearing date for SFFA’s motion for preliminary injunction for December 21.

We will continue to monitor both cases and keep you apprised of the proceedings.

Whether the motions for preliminary injunction are granted or denied, and the results could be different, we expect each case to be immediately appealed, the Naval Academy case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and the West Point case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

From there, one way or another, the U.S. Supreme Court will probably be asked to review the courts of appeals’ decisions. Whether they take the case(s) is unknown. If the Court does, it would likely consolidate the case as it did with Harvard and the University of North Carolina in the affirmative action cases.


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    JohnSmith100 in reply to gonzotx. | November 4, 2023 at 6:36 pm

    Diversity should never trump competence.

      I have a daughter who is a Plebe at USNA so I am intimately familiar with the current admissions process. Just looking at the first couple of pages of the filing, there is one falsehood in the filing that makes the plaintiffs look like complete fools.

      “ Over the past few decades, however, the Academy has strayed from that approach. Instead of admitting midshipmen solely on leadership potential and objective metrics—the Academy stopped requiring applicants to submit standardized scores three years ago—the Academy focuses on race.”

      This is not true. USNA is officially test flexible, but, to get out of not submitting scores, you have to have documented proof that you were unable to take the tests due to COVID related cancellations. This may have been an issue for the 2021 admissions cycle, but, I would imagine for Mids who received an appointment in 2023 this exception would be extremely low.

      To get into the academies, you have to be what they call 4Q.
      – Receive a nomination
      – Be medically qualified ( this is where Service Academy Dreams go to die)
      – Be physically qualified (you must pass a fitness test)
      – Be Academically qualified

      Nominations have multiple sources:
      – Presidential (auto nomination for any candidate who has a parent who is career military)
      – Members of Congress (Representative and Senator).Most present a slate of 10 candidates, however, some do a preferred choice.
      – ROTC
      – Marine or Navy Enlisted ( a lot of these spots go to athletes and enlisted who attend the prep school first)
      – Vice Presidential ( similar to MOC process)

      So, if you’re a child of career military, and you are enlisted, you have a lot more nomination sources. Each candidate can be on multiple slates based on nomination source. Each Member of Congress can have up to 5 people at each academy at any given time. So, 1 person each year would get an appointment and sometimes 2.

      In my daughters case, we are in a small state with 1 representative. This year, we had 7 receive appointments and enrolled at USNA. My daughter received 1 nomination from one of our senators. So, at least one person got in from a non-MOC nomination. Here’s the possible sources:
      1 person attended the Prep School last year and would have at least the Enlisted source
      2 were in Junior ROTC
      1 person’s father was career Air Force

      So, there’s 4/7 that I know had multiple nomination sources that my daughter did not have.

      Then, it depends on where you are from, Since my state is small, each MOC has an average of about 30 nomination applications per year. The Virginia senators have over 1000.

      My opinion, after knowing the admissions process, there is unfairness in it but racially biased it is not.

Am I the only one who thinks the military ought to have non-combat sub branches? I was in the Signal Corps, which is non- combat, but there was no guarantee that I would not be called upon to fight.

I think combat specialties should earn special pay and benefits, and the qualifications should not be dumbed down.

    Conservative Beaner in reply to Petrushka. | November 4, 2023 at 8:38 pm

    Unless you’re a medic everyone is rifleman.

      That’s the Marine Corps philosophy, The other services don’t say it explicitly, and don’t base their policies on it.

      However, there certainly are times when it becomes true for any service. In December 1941, Japanese bombers destroyed virtually all the military aircraft stationed in the Philippines, and the Army and Navy decided it wasn’t possible to deliver replacements. So the aircraft mechanics, crew chiefs, clerks, cooks, and any surviving pilots became riflemen and platoon leaders defending the trenches in Bataan.

      IMHO, the services other than the Marines are not adequately prepared for the next time such a thing happens. And training for this should be more than just something the service members do in case of the ultimate SHTF event – it should be a reminder that, whatever your job, you are a member of a combat service, and your real job is whatever forwards the combat mission.

      In the trenches, there should be _no_ diversity in anything but rank. You are all soldiers, and nothing else matters.

The Officer Corps is in a sorry state, in general. The Armed Forces needs a vast, and sweeping rollback to the Doctrine and Policies of the late 1980s.

It’s about time. They’ve been doing this crap for at least 40 years.

Wouldn’t blacks be happier in their own historically black schools? Then they can take responsibility for their own achievement gap.

50% black males don’t finish high school. So blame white people??

    Milhouse in reply to smooth. | November 4, 2023 at 10:20 pm

    Not relevant to this case. This case isn’t about where people will be happiest, but about what is good for the military, and fundamentally about whether the military (which is bound by its commander-in-chief’s policies, which are in turn influenced by the need to keep congress happy so as to keep the appropriations coming) should be allowed to decide what is good for it without outside interference from the non-political branch of government.

“Our armed forces know from hard experience that when we do not have a diverse officer corps that is broadly reflective of a diverse fighting force, our strength and cohesion and military readiness suffer,” Prelogar said.

OK, fair enough. Now show your work. Specify that experience and show how it demonstrates what you claim it does.

SFFA drew a good judge. Judge Bennett is a George W. Bush appointee. I was a partner in a Maryland law firm that represented financial institutions. We were always happy when a case was assigned to Judge Bennett (there are several other judges in the District of Maryland who we were not as happy to see on a case). It’s kind of refreshing to see a high visibility case not being assigned to a legislator in robes through some skullduggery.

    jhkrischel in reply to Disgusted. | November 5, 2023 at 12:38 pm

    Tangential to the point, but I have become more and more concerned about the independence of the judiciary. Specifically, it seems that there have been threats and pressure against judges who would otherwise uphold their oath to the constitution, and I’ve seen some decisions that looked like they were done under duress.

    This is above and beyond the leftist partisan judges, of course – but it makes me think even the “good judges” aren’t as reliable as we’d like.