The anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions in January filed an emergency petition with the high court to overturn a lower court decision that temporarily allowed West Point to continue to use race in admissions while a challenge against the practice proceeds. The Biden administration had urged justices to reject the petition, arguing that the Army has “a compelling interest in the diversity of its cadets” because West Point serves as a direct pipeline for future military leaders.
The Supreme Court’s brief statement, which is uncommon in orders, aligns with lower court concerns.
Judge Philip Halpern of the Southern District of New York, in the case against West Point, and Judge Richard Bennett, who is overseeing a similar challenge against the Naval Academy, have ruled that SFFA has yet to establish a factual record that the federal government cannot prove that their consideration of race in admissions is used to further compel governmental interests and is narrowly tailored.
Halpern, a Trump appointee, in January criticized the core argument brought by SFFA: That military academies’ use of race in admissions is unconstitutional because of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down similar policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last summer.
SFFA’s case heavily relies on the Harvard decision, which was also mentioned by Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar in the Biden administration’s defense of West Point’s admissions policies.
Prelogar emphasized the Supreme Court’s decision in the Harvard case to carve out military academies from the ruling because of the “potentially distinct interests” they may have. She also slammed SFFA’s heavy reliance on the Harvard decision and argued that whether West Point’s limited consideration of race in admissions is narrowly tailored presents a different question than what was addressed in that decision.
“It is disappointing that the young men and women who apply to West Point for the foreseeable future will have their race used as a factor to admit or reject them,” SFFA President Edward Blum said in a statement in response to the order. “Every year this case languishes in discovery, trial and appeals means that our nation’s best and brightest young men and women will be classified, sorted, and preferred based on their skin color rather than just on their abilities.”
Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.