West Point was accused in a federal lawsuit Tuesday of improperly using race and ethnicity as factors in admissions by the same group behind the legal challenge that resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court striking down affirmative action in college admissions.
Students for Fair Admissions claims the U.S. Military Academy sets benchmarks for how many Black, Hispanic and Asian cadets there should be in each class. The lawsuit filed in New York's Southern District claims West Point is violating the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which contains an equal-protection principle that binds the federal government.
“Instead of admitting future cadets based on objective metrics and leadership potential, West Point focuses on race,” according to the complaint. “In fact, it openly publishes its racial composition 'goals,' and its director of admissions brags that race is wholly determinative for hundreds if not thousands of applicants."
The academy said in a prepared statement that it “does not comment on ongoing litigation to protect the integrity of its outcome for all parties involved.“
The filing comes after the Supreme Court in June struck down affirmative action in college admissions, forcing institutions of higher education to look for new ways to achieve diverse student bodies. The court’s conservative majority invalidated admissions plans at Harvard University, and the University of North Carolina, the nation’s oldest private and public colleges, respectively.
That ruling did not cover West Point and the nation's other military academies.
But Edward Blum, president of SFFA, said in a prepared statement that with the recent high court decision, "it must follow that the U.S. military’s higher education institutions must end their race-based policies as well.”
“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," Blum said. "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.”
West Point produces about 17% of newly commissioned Army officers each year, according to the lawsuit.
West Point in recent years has made concerted efforts to diversify its ranks, with officials increasing outreach to metropolitan areas like New York City, Atlanta and Detroit.
Minority enrollment was about 38% for the class of more than 1,240 that entered the academy north of New York City this summer.
The academy also recently complied with recommendations from a commission created by Congress to remove honors to Robert E. Lee and other Confederate officers as a way to address racial injustice. Still, some graduates of color from West Point and the nation's other military schools have described hostile environments.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday also names the Department of Defense, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and other officials.