Supreme Court Allows West Point to Consider Race In Its Admission Policy
Feb 9, 2024
In September 2023, the Students for Fair Admissions (“SFFA”), following up on their successful lawsuit challenging Harvard and the University of North Carolina’s use of race in student admission policies, sued West Point Military Academy (“West Point”) and the Naval Academy claiming the academies’ consideration of race in admissions violates the Constitution. SFFA requested an injunction from the federal district court to immediately prohibit West Point’s practice. Their request for injunctive relief was denied by the federal district court and the Court of Appeals resulting in an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On February 2, 2024, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s rulings and denied SFFA’s injunction request. The Supreme Court, in a brief decision, stated that the record before it “is underdeveloped and this Order should not be construed as expressing any view on the merits of the constitutional question.” As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, West Point can continue its limited consideration of race in its admission policy while SFFA’s constitutional claims are litigated in the lower courts.
The Supreme Court’s willingness to allow West Point to continue its admission practices is consistent and supportive of its apparent “carve-out” for military academies set forth in its June 29, 2023, ruling which banned race-based admissions in higher education. As noted by Chief Justice Roberts in his majority opinion, military academies such as West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy may have “potentially distinct interests” in considering the race of their student-cadets. For example, West Point asserts that a diverse army corps is a “national-security imperative” and that achieving that diversity requires the limited consideration of race in selecting those who join the Army as cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Similar assertions are made by the United States Naval Academy in support of their limited consideration of race in admissions of midshipmen.
The courts seem inclined to allow military academies to consider race in their admissions process relying on their unique circumstances and national security concerns. It is likely that the West Point and Naval Academy lawsuits will eventually make their way to the Supreme Court for a ruling on the underlying facts. We will continue to monitor future rulings in these cases.