The U.S. Military Academy on Tuesday urged the Supreme Court to stay out of a dispute over the use of race in the school’s admissions policy. Telling the justices that a group of students opposed to the consideration of race in college admissions was seeking to block “policies that military leaders have long deemed essential to ensuring the effectiveness of the Nation’s military,” the academy asked the court to turn down the group’s request for an order that would temporarily bar the school from using race as part of its admissions process.
The 35-page filing by U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, on behalf of the school and the Department of Defense, came in response to a request filed last week by Students for Fair Admissions, the same group that filed last year’s challenges to the admissions programs at the University of North Carolina and Harvard College. In those cases, the Supreme Court struck down the schools’ programs, effectively ending the use of affirmative action in college admissions.
In his opinion for the majority in the Harvard and UNC cases, Chief Justice John Roberts indicated that the court’s ruling did not apply to West Point and the other service academies because of the “potentially distinct interests” involved in admissions for those schools.
Students for Fair Admissions went to federal court in New York last fall, seeking to block the school from considering race until its challenge to the constitutionality of West Point’s admissions program is resolved. But the lower courts declined to do so, setting the stage for the group’s appeal to the Supreme Court last week.
Calling West Point’s reliance on race even more egregious than Harvard’s, the group asked the Supreme Court to temporarily prohibit the school from considering race in its admission process. In the absence of such an order, the group argued, West Point will “label and sort thousands more applicants based on their skin color” while the litigation continues.
The school pushed back in its filing on Monday. “For more than forty years,” Prelogar wrote, “our Nation’s military leaders have determined that a diverse Army officer corps is a national-security imperative and that achieving that diversity requires limited consideration of race in selecting those who join the Army as cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point.” Students for Fair Admissions, Prelogar contended, has not offered any good reason for rejecting those determinations – “let alone doing so in a rushed preliminary posture on an incomplete record.”
And although the official application deadline is Jan. 31, Prelogar observed, the school’s admissions process is already well underway, so that the order that the group seeks would be “profoundly disruptive.”
Students for Fair Admissions has the option to file a second brief to respond to the academy’s filing. Once that brief is submitted, the justices could rule on the group’s request at any time.
This post is also published on SCOTUSblog.