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Dive Brief:

  • The organization that won U.S. Supreme Court challenges against race-conscious college admissions this summer filed a similar lawsuit Tuesday, arguing the prohibition should apply to military academies. 
  • In a complaint against the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Students for Fair Admissions argued that the institution once “evaluated cadets based on merit and achievement” but has become discriminatory and instead focused on race over the last few decades.
  • SFFA is asking a federal court to declare West Point’s policies unlawful. A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Defense, which SFFA named in its lawsuit, declined to comment on pending litigation Tuesday.

Dive Insight:

SFFA and its founder Edward Blum masterminded the lawsuit against race-conscious practices at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which the Supreme Court struck down in June.

In doing so, the conservative-dominated high court broke from decades of legal precedent that found colleges can consider race as one factor in admissions. However, the Supreme Court’s ruling explicitly excluded military academies.

In a footnote in the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that no military academy was a party in SFFA’s lawsuits, and no court had “addressed the propriety of race-based admissions systems in that context.” 

Military academies may have “potentially distinct interests” from other institutions, Roberts wrote.

SFFA does not agree. Its lawsuit said “West Point has no justification for using race-based admissions,” citing the ruling against Harvard. 

In the new complaint, SFFA opposed the idea that having a diverse military can “ward off racial strife within units,” a common argument in favor of race-conscious practices in the military. SFFA said this concept hearkens to the Vietnam War, when so few servicemembers of color enlisted that racial tensions emerged.

“The brief period of racial unrest that West Point retells over and over was not produced by colorblind policies,” SFFA said. “It was a tragic byproduct of broader factors.”

Blum set his sights on military academies shortly after his Supreme Court victory.

In July, he emailed SFFA’s membership, looking for students who were applying to or had recently been rejected from institutions like West Point and the U.S. Air Force Academy. SFFA later set up a website, West Point Not Fair, to seek out those students. 

West Point, located in New York, enrolled more than 4,300 students in fall 2022, according to federal data. Of those, 61% were White, 12% were Hispanic or Latino and 11% were Black or African American.

It’s a selective institution, only 12% of those who applied in fall 2022 were admitted.