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Supreme Court Makes ‘Carveout’ For Race-Based Admissions At Military Academies

The Supreme Court excluded military academies from its landmark ruling Thursday which struck down race-based admissions in university admissions, leaving their existing policies untouched for now.

In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled that Harvard University and the University of North Carolina’s use of racial preferences in admissions violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, overruling a prior decision that allowed universities to consider race. But the court did not consider any cases involving the military, opting instead to leave out the question of racial preference in service academies’ admissions decisions due to the “potentially distinct interests” they might hold, according to the opinion.

“No military academy is a party to these cases, however, and none of the courts below addressed the propriety of race-based admissions systems in that context,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a footnote to the majority opinion. “This opinion also does not address the issue,” he added, “in light of the potentially distinct interests that military academies may present.”

In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor described the ruling as a “carveout” for service academies. She called the exemption arbitrary, disputing the logic that no military academies were party to the ruling because the court did not similarly exempt religious schools who were also not direct parties.

“In a footnote, the Court exempts military academies from its ruling in light of ‘the potentially distinct interests’ they may present,” she wrote. But, “national security interests are also implicated at civilian universities,” especially those hosting Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs that routinely commission military officers

The Pentagon has made a point of increasing racial diversity in the officer corps.

“The Court has come to rest on the bottom-line conclusion that racial diversity in higher education is only worth potentially preserving insofar as it might be needed to prepare Black Americans and other underrepresented minorities for success in the bunker, not the boardroom (a particularly awkward place to land, in light of the history the majority opts to ignore),” Justice Ketanji Brown-Jackson wrote, agreeing with Sotomayor.

But experts said that the case is not settled just yet.

“The reason these cases don’t apply to service academies is because there were no services academies who were parties to the litigation. The court left the question of whether service academies can use race-based admissions policies for another day,” Mike Berry, general counsel for First Liberty Institute and a former Army attorney, explained to the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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