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Students for Fair Admissions Sue West Point over 'Unconstitutional' Race-Based Admissions Policies

The organization accused the military academy's director of admissions of bragging 'that race is wholly determinative for hundreds if not thousands of applicants'

The United States Military Academy at West Point is being sued for its race-related admission practices by the same group that brought an affirmative action lawsuit to the Supreme Court.

Students for Fair Admissions alleged in its filing that West Point unconstitutionally uses race as a factor in admissions.

“For most of its history, West Point has evaluated cadets 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, soldiers must follow orders without regard to the skin color of those giving them, and battlefield realities apply equally to all soldiers regardless of race, ethnicity, or national origin,” wrote the advocacy organization in its lawsuit

“Over the past few decades, however, West Point has strayed from that approach. Instead of admitting future cadets based on objective metrics and leadership potential, West Point focuses on race,” Students for Fair Admission continued. “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.”

The organization contends that the military academy has “no justification for using race-based admissions.”

Between 1,200 and 1,300 students are admitted to West Point each year. To be considered for admission, an applicant must complete a medical examination, pass a physical fitness test, and receive a nomination from a member of Congress, the Vice President, or the President. 

“Representatives and senators have statutory authority to nominate their constituents for admission to West Point,” per the court documents. “Legislators have unfettered discretion in how they allocate those nominations. However, each senator and congressman can have no more than five nominees attending the Academy at any given time.”

The academy’s admission office will then review the applications and, at that time, weigh an applicant’s race as a possible reason for acceptance or denial. The academy has predetermined racial “benchmarks” it aims to fill to ensure a certain demographic composition of each class.

According to the lawsuit:

West Point considers any enrollment rate lower than its racial benchmarks to be a failure, even when a racial or ethnic group’s percentage of the incoming class exceeds its percentage in the population at large. For example, West Point’s benchmark for African Americans in the Class of 2020 was “[greater than] 14%,” even though only 13.1% of U.S. citizens are African American. West Point believes that, because African Americans are overrepresented in the enlisted ranks (at 22.5%), they needed to be overrepresented among cadets, too.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down affirmative action – procedures designed to give priority to applications from individuals who are thought to be part of an under-representative group. The court ruled such practices were unconstitutional as they violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court barred universities and colleges from considering race during the admissions process. The decision was a result of two lawsuits filed by Students for Fair Admissions against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion that universities “must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual—not on the basis of race.”

“Many universities have for too long done just the opposite,” wrote Robert. “And in doing so, they have concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”

As part of the majority opinion, however, Roberts wrote that the ruling could not be automatically applied to the nation’s military academies.

“The United States as amicus curiae contends that race-based admissions programs further compelling interests at our Nation’s military academies,” he wrote. “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.”

With its latest lawsuit, Students for Fair Admissions has asked the court to affirm that West Point’s race-based admission practices violate the Fifth Amendment and to prohibit the academy from considering or knowing an applicant’s race during admissions. 

“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,” said Edward Blum, the president of Students for Fair Admissions, in a Sept. 19 statement. “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.”

“Because the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent opinion in the SFFA cases expressly forbids all institutions of higher education from using race in admissions decisions, it must follow that the U.S. military higher education institutions must end their race-based policies as well,” concluded Blum.

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