In a critical case that will shape the future of affirmative action policies in America’s military academies, a federal judge has upheld the race-based admissions policies at the U.S. Naval Academy. The ruling comes as part of a broader national debate over the role of race in educational admissions.
The lawsuit was filed by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), a non-profit organization known for challenging affirmative action policies. SFFA argues that the government’s policies are discriminatory: “America’s enemies do not fight differently based on the race of the commanding officer opposing them.”
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett issued an order denying SFFA’s request for an injunction to halt the academy’s race-based admissions activities until the final trial. Judge Bennett was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2003.
— RI Tea Party (@riteaparty) December 15, 2023
In his ruling, Bennett wrote, “There have always been racial tensions in the military. They have lessened, but they are still there.” The claim appears to support his reasoning that racial preferences are still necessary in 2023 admissions decisions. He went on to say that SFFA’s request for a temporary injunction would amount to an “extraordinary remedy.”
The Naval Academy case will ultimately be decided within the context of recent Supreme Court precedent regarding affirmative action admissions at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. Bennett wrote that he believes the military academies should be considered in a different light, saying the Harvard decision “is not an absolute cookie cutter.”
In the Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina ruling issued this June, the Supreme Court held that affirmative action in college admissions is unconstitutional. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts emphasized that such practices violated the constitutional principles of equal treatment under the law. This decision marked a significant shift in the legal landscape of affirmative action in the United States, overturning decades of judicial precedents that had allowed modest consideration of race in admissions to foster diversity in educational institutions.
Although the Supreme Court’s decision did not explicitly address the military academies, it set a new legal standard that challenges the use of race as a factor in admissions processes. The court acknowledged the potentially distinct interests that military academies may present, noting the unique considerations at play in the context of national security and military preparedness.
Attorney Brian Boynton argued the case before Bennett on behalf of the government. He defended the racial quotas, saying, “The Naval Academy’s admissions policies serve a compelling national security interest.”
SFFA attorney Edward Blum told reporters, “SFFA is exploring our legal options in light of the court’s opinion.” The organization may seek an immediate appeal to the intermediate federal appeals court.