A legal group fighting against affirmative action sued the U.S. Naval Academy on Thursday over its purported consideration of an applicant’s race in admissions decisions.
Students for Fair Admissions (SFA) won a Supreme Court case against Harvard and the University of North Carolina determining that so-called affirmative action at public universities violated civil rights laws by preferencing minorities. The decision did not cover military academies, but SFA argues that the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, has “no justification for using race-based admissions” since the practice was rendered unconstitutional elsewhere, the 28-page complaint states.
“America’s enemies do not fight differently based on the race of the commanding officer opposing them,” SFFA said in the lawsuit. “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.”
Supreme Court justices did not apply the June decision to service academies on the grounds they may or may not have a national security-based reason for considering race in admissions. SFA’s lawsuit will put the Naval Academy to the test, forcing it to argue for an exception.
SFA similarly sued the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, which commissions Army officers, in September.
SFA’s argument is that the Naval Academy is violating the Fifth Amendment which “binds the entire federal government” on an equal protection principle equally as strong as the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause binds states. SFA won the Supreme Court case overturning affirmative action on the Equal Protection Clause.
The Department of Defense (DOD), Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, USNA Dean of Admissions Bruce Latta and academy superintendent retired Rear Adm. Fred Kacher are listed as defendants in the case.
Fewer than 10% of Naval Academy applicants receive admission offers. The academy claims to use a “holistic” set of criteria, some of it subjective, in evaluating applicants including the potential future Navy officer’s race, the complaint stated, citing testimony, official documents and news reports.
For example, the Navy’s Task Force One plan in 2020 called for de-emphasizing the use of standardized testing in favor of a “whole person” evaluation framework with the explicit aim to improve “minority representation in underrepresented ratings to reflect relevant national demographic percentages.”
But Vice Admiral Sean Buck, who left his post as Naval Academy’s superintendent in 2023, has denied that the Naval Academy engineers classes to reach a certain demographic profile. “We do not have race-based composition goals at the Naval Academy,” he told Congress in July.
The Naval Academy declined to comment, citing a policy against discussing pending litigation.
Micaela Burrow on October 6, 2023