PoliticsSupreme Court


Supreme Court keeps affirmative action for military academies

While traditional colleges and universities will no longer be allowed to consider race in admissions, America's top military academies can.
Homecoming parade at West Point.
Posted at 1:14 PM, Jun 29, 2023

Buried in the 6-3 decision to overturn an affirmative action ruling on college and university admissions is a notable exception to the Supreme Court's decision. 

The Supreme Court noted in Thursday's ruling that military service academies are exempt from the ban on race-conscious admissions. That means military academies can continue using race as a factor in their admissions, even when traditional colleges and universities are prohibited. 

According to West Point data, 63% of students are White, 12% are Black, 10% are Hispanic/Latino and 8% are Asian. Nationally, 59% of the U.S. population is White, 14% is Black, 19% is Hispanic and Latino and 6% are Asian, according to U.S. Census data

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit to overturn race-conscious admissions at colleges argued that affirmative action policies are not necessary for military academies, either. 

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A group of prominent retired military leaders filed an amicus brief maintaining support for affirmative action policies in the military.

"The importance of maintaining a diverse, highly qualified officer corps has been beyond legitimate dispute for decades," the group wrote. "History has shown that placing a diverse Armed Forces under the command of homogenous leadership is a recipe for internal resentment, discord, and violence. 

"By contrast, units that are diverse across all levels are more cohesive, collaborative, and effective. The importance of diverse leadership has risen to new heights in recent years, as international conflicts and humanitarian crises require the military to perform civil functions that call for heightened cultural awareness and sensitivity to ethnic and religious issues."

In Chief Justice John Roberts' majority opinion, he responded to the brief by noting that race-conscious admission programs "further compelling interests at our Nation’s military academies."

Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted Roberts' decision to exempt military academies from the ruling. 

"The majority recognizes the compelling need for diversity in the military and the national security implications at stake, but it ends race-conscious college admissions at civilian universities implicating those interests anyway," Sotomayor wrote. 

Roberts stated that part of his reasoning was that the military academies were not a party to the case. Sotomayor noted that other colleges and universities were also not parties to the case.