Group Behind Victorious Supreme Court Lawsuit Tackles Affirmative Action at Military Academies

Students for Fair Admissions files suit against West Point

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September 19, 2023

The U.S. Military Academy, known as West Point, was sued on Tuesday by an anti-affirmative action group challenging the school's use of race as a factor in student admissions as a violation of the constitutional principle of equal protection.

The lawsuit was brought by the same organization that successfully pursued litigation that resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court in June rejecting collegiate student admissions policies that take race into consideration. Such policies long were used to increase the number of black, Hispanic and other minority students on American campuses.

The new case seeks to erase an exemption carved out in June's ruling for the U.S. military academies, which include the Army's prestigious school at West Point, New York, as well as the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland and the Air Force Academy in Colorado.

The Virginia-based Students for Fair Admissions, founded by affirmative action opponent Edward Blum, filed the suit in federal court in White Plains, New York.

It said that two of its members—white male high school students who were not identified—were ready and able to apply to West Point but that their race would prevent them "from competing for admission on an equal footing."

A West Point spokesperson had no immediate comment.

Many institutions of higher education, corporations, and military leaders long have backed affirmative action on campuses to ensure a talent pool that can bring a range of perspectives to the workplace and the U.S. armed forces.

Established in 1802, West Point boasts graduates including former president Dwight Eisenhower and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, one of the first humans to walk on the moon. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the first black person to hold that job, also is a West Point graduate.

The lawsuit seeks an order barring West Point from considering an applicant's race when making admissions decisions. The group accused West Point of violating the principle of equal protection enshrined in the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment.

The conservative-majority Supreme Court ruled in favor of Blum's group despite upholding affirmative action in student admissions as recently as 2016.

Blum's group had argued that such programs discriminated against white and Asian American applicants and brought the issue before the Supreme Court through lawsuits it filed against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.

The Supreme Court's ruling did not address the consideration of race in admissions at the U.S. military academies, with Chief Justice John Roberts in a footnote saying they had "potentially distinct interests."

But Blum in a statement on Tuesday said that "no level of deference justifies these polarizing and disliked racial classifications and preferences in admissions to West Point or any of our service academies."

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Will Dunham)