A couple of weeks ago, Students for Fair Admissions sued the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Now, it’s suing the U.S. Naval Academy, claiming the academy’s race-based admissions practices are unconstitutional.
The group was already successful in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina, in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that the use of race in admissions by private and public universities violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
Both suits against the two premier military academies (Is the Air Force Academy next?) assert that West Point and the Naval Academy cannot justify using race in admissions for the same reasons that the Supreme Court found the discriminatory policies of Harvard and UNC unconstitutional.
As a soon-to-be published law review article by my colleagues at The Heritage Foundation concludes, Student for Fair Admissions is correct. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
The service academies are the nation’s premier military officer-training institutions, even though they only produce 17% of the officers in all the services. More than 80% of Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine, Coast Guard, and Space Force officers get their commissions from Reserve Officer Training Corps programs or other direct commission programs.
But there is something special about being a graduate of one of the service academies. Regardless of how an officer received his or her commission, once he or she is on active duty and leading enlisted men and women, no one cares how those officers got their commissions.
The suit against the Naval Academy acknowledges that the academy has produced “some of our nation’s most revered admirals,” but lambastes the academy for now abandoning evaluations of potential midshipmen based on merit and achievement in favor of race.
As one of the greatest fighting captains in naval history, John Paul Jones, once lamented: “Without a respectable navy, alas America.”
The lawsuit, Students for Fair Admissions v. U.S. Naval Academy, was filed Thursday in federal court in Maryland. It makes many of the very same allegations contained in the lawsuit that the group filed against West Point, and it is similarly making its claims under the Fifth Amendment’s equal-protection requirement that applies to the federal government—including the military, the group says.
While the Army and Navy are great rivals when it comes to football, they are not when it comes to their discriminatory admissions. They are, according to Students for Fair Admissions, violating the law with the same arrogant assumption that they are immune from the equal-protection requirements of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Just like West Point, the Naval Academy has a two-step admissions policy: nomination and appointment. The first step requires passing a medical and physical fitness test and securing a nomination from the president, the vice president, a member of Congress, the secretary of the Navy, or the Navy and Marine Corps’ ROTC detachments.
It’s in the second step—the appointment—where the “Academy’s racial preferences kick in,” says Students for Fair Admissions. Only about 1,200 midshipmen are accepted, less than 10% of the applicants who try to get in.
The academy “openly admits that race is a factor” in its admissions decisions. It claims that it doesn’t use “quotas,” but that its “use of race is ‘holistic,’” according to the complaint.
“Holistic” is the modern code word used by academics to engage in the type of discriminatory conduct pioneered by the president of Harvard University in the 1920s. He didn’t like the fact that so many highly qualified Jewish students were getting into the college, so he implemented the type of subjective, individualized “character” and “fitness” reviews—aka a “holistic” review—that would allow admissions officers to keep out Jews, no matter how qualified they were.
That’s exactly what the Naval Academy is doing with its “holistic” approach, according to Students for Fair Admissions. A diversity task force created by the chief of naval operations recommended deemphasizing the use of standardized academic test results and prioritizing “subjective” factors instead. That was intended to improve “minority representation” and ensure the officer corps reflects “relevant national demographic percentages.”
In other words, subjective racial quotas are used at the academy to ensure that the percentage of cadets match the racial proportions of the general population, although now the emphasis is on making the officer corps “mirror the demographic composition of the troops [sailors] they lead.”
A Naval Academy professor involved in the admission process admitted that if an applicant identifies himself as a racial minority—other than Asian—the requirements for admission are immediately dropped. In fact, a report by the U.S. General Accounting Office notes that “the Academy makes offers of appointment to the majority of qualified minorities to achieve the Chief of Naval Operations’ commission goals for minorities.”
Goals equals quotas.
This process is so ingrained that the same professor recounted an episode where the board of admissions “debated whether students of Brazilian origin ‘counted’ as Hispanics” to be eligible for preferred admission,” according to the complaint.
As Students for Fair Admissions points out, all of this is based on invidious stereotypes, categorizing “sailors and Marines primarily as members of racial groups, rather than as individuals, and are grounded in the assumption that minority service members all think and feel the same way.”
It’s also based on the irrational and racist view that black sailors and Marines will be “more likely to trust a black officer or a chain of command that includes black officers … because of their skin color, not their trustworthiness,” with the same being true of Hispanics.
These are the same “nebulous arguments … made  years ago by opponents of desegregation” of the military, says Students for Fair Admissions.
This displays a dismissive, contemptuous attitude toward members of our naval forces and “completely ignores reams of evidence showing that trust between sailors at sea or Marines on the battlefield is formed through performance, and that service members in war zones are more concerned with their leaders’ competency than with their skin color.”
The Naval Academy claims that using racial preferences to achieve diversity makes Navy units “more effective at accomplishing their missions,” but cites no evidence whatsoever to support that claim.
There is no evidence that “military units that choose their members based on race are more successful on the battlefield than units who select their members based on objective measures of tactical competency, regardless of skin color,” Students for Fair Admissions says.
This disregard for national security—for training the most effective warrior class possible, regardless of race—is truly concerning, since it obviously endangers our troops and our country.
The courts should not provide “blind deference to assertions of national security or military necessity,” especially when those assertions fly in the face of common sense.
Doing so, as the Supreme Court noted in the Harvard decision, can lead to “gravely wrong” outcomes and “gross violations of civil rights,” as happened in the infamous Korematsu case, when the internment of all individuals of Japanese ancestry was upheld during World War II because of supposed military necessity.
The Naval Academy also insults Americans generally by claiming that an officer corps that does not mirror the racial makeup of the general population will be viewed by the public as not legitimate.
That wrongly assumes, says Students for Fair Admissions, that Americans assess the “legitimacy” and “trustworthiness of an institution based on its racial makeup.” That is “both un-American and devoid of any evidentiary support.”
The group cites polling that shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans do not support racial preferences in universities and says that Americans “think that military leaders’ over-emphasis on social-justice issues and political correctness is ‘undermining military effectiveness.’”
That may be one of the leading causes of the Army’s and Navy’s severe recruitment shortfall problems.
Students for Fair Admissions is seeking a declaratory judgment ordering the Naval Academy to stop discrimination in its admissions based on race. It has already won against Harvard and the University of North Carolina. With its new targeting of West Point and the Naval Academy, it has obviously taken Capt. John Paul Jones’ famous admonition as its operating principle: “I have not yet begun to fight.”
Hopefully, the U.S. Air Force, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine academies—all of whom use race in admissions—are next. Or they could just do the right thing and stop this pernicious practice on their own.
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