Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), sued the US Military Academy, also known as West Point, on Tuesday for using race as a factor in admissions. SFFA is the same group that sued Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (UNC), which led to the US Supreme Court effectively ending affirmative action.
The complaint alleges that West Point violated the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution by setting “benchmarks” for the percentage of each class that should be filled by “African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians.” The complaint cites West Point documents that track the “racial balancing efforts.” Additionally, the lawsuit asserts that West Point’s justifications for its balancing efforts do not pass strict scrutiny.
Strict scrutiny is the standard of review of cases of affirmative action in college admissions. To pass strict scrutiny, the discrimination must employ narrowly tailored measures to further a compelling governmental interest.
In this case, SFFA is suing under the Fifth Amendment because West Point is part of and funded by the federal government. The Fifth Amendment contains an equal protection principle. SFFA argues that West Point’s justifications for using racial preferences do not pass strict scrutiny. According to the complaint, West Point’s justifications are that racial preferences are critical to having a well-functioning army in a pluralistic society and an officer corps that does not reflect the general population would undermine its legitimacy by “fueling popular perceptions of racial/ethnic minorities serving as ‘canon fodder’ for white military leaders.”
In response to the complaint, SFFA President Edward Blum stated:
Over the years, courts have been mindful of the military’s unique role in our nation’s life and the distinctive considerations that come with it. However, no level of deference justifies these polarizing and disliked racial classifications and preferences in admissions to West Point or any of our service academies. Because the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent opinion in the SFFA cases expressly forbids all institutions of higher education from using race in admissions decisions, it must follow that the U. S. military higher education institutions must end their race-based policies as well.
In June, the US Supreme Court effectively ended affirmative action in college admissions. There, the court found that Harvard and UNC’s admissions processes did not pass strict scrutiny. The schools insisted that these processes allow colleges to create a more diverse educational environment, which leads to various positive outcomes for their students, which is a compelling interest. However, the court disagreed and ruled that this was not a compelling interest. Thus, the court concluded that these processes violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In July, SFFA sued Harvard again, asserting that its legacy admissions policy violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.