Anti-affirmative action group sues Naval Academy for using race in admissions decisions

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The high court said the opinion could not address admissions at these schools because of “potentially distinct interests that military academies may present.”

SFFA is arguing that the academy based in Annapolis is violating the Fifth Amendment, which the group says includes “an equal-protection principle that binds the entire federal government.” The group is accusing the institution of engaging in racial balancing in their admissions of new classes, and argue that the policies harm white and Asian American students’ chances of getting in.

“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.”

What’s in the lawsuit: The 28-page lawsuit was filed in the Northern District Court of Maryland. Listed as defendants are: the Defense Department, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, U.S. Naval Academy Acting Superintendent Fred Kacher and Naval Academy Dean of Admissions Bruce Latta.

The lawsuit breaks down the admissions process at the Naval Academy, which trains future Naval and Marine officers and is highly selective. The Maryland academy enrolls fewer than 1,200 midshipmen in each class, according to the court filing, and admits less than 10 percent of applicants.

Prospective students are asked to pass medical exams and a physical fitness test, and earn a nomination from a member of Congress, Navy secretary, ROTC, the vice president or the president. Then, applicants who have been officially nominated must be accepted by the academy’s admissions office.

SFFA’s lawsuit said the issue is with racial preferences used by the admissions office. The group argues that an applicant’s race gives them an edge in the Naval Academy’s admissions process if they are Hispanic, African American or Native American. And while the academy has said it does not use racial quotas, SFFA said that it uses race in its “holistic” admissions process, just like the programs struck down at Harvard and UNC.

The lawsuit pointed to an opinion piece from Navy Academy professor Bruce Fleming who wrote in 2010 that “if an applicant identifies himself or herself as non-white, the bar for qualification immediately drops.” Fleming said he served on the admissions board in 2002 and 2003.

The group argued that the academy’s admissions policy is subject to the strict scrutiny legal standard because it relies on racial classifications, and the academy must prove its measures are “narrowly tailored” to “further compelling governmental interests.”

SFFA, in the filing also, argues against the belief that the military has an interest in developing a diverse officer corps that reflects its enlisted ranks. The group said that the long-held belief “relies on crude and infantilizing stereotypes” and the academy cannot provide evidence to support this.

“It assumes that Black sailors will be more likely to trust a Black officer or a chain of command that includes Black officers, that Hispanic Marines are more likely to trust Hispanic officers, and so forth — because of their skin color, not their trustworthiness,” the lawsuit said. “And it completely ignores reams of evidence showing … that servicemembers in war zones are more concerned with their leaders’ competency than with their skin color.”

What’s next: SFFA is asking the court to declare the Naval Academy’s use of race in admissions as unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment. It also wants the court to bar the academy from considering or knowing an applicant’s race when making admissions decisions.

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