Thursday’s Supreme Court decision which ended the use of affirmative action in college admissions contained a carve out for military service academies, but a key Senate Republican wants to eliminate it there too.
Shortly after the ruling was announced, Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Roger Wicker, R-Miss., took to social media to praise the court’s ruling and his aim to “further prohibit our military service academies from engaging in race-based affirmative action.”
Earlier in June, Wicker introduced his Military Merit, Fairness, and Equality Act, which would “prohibit the Department of Defense from prioritizing the demographic characteristics of service members above individual merit and demonstrated performance.” Although the military academies are not specifically mentioned in the legislation, it would cover all defense-affiliated institutions.
In connection with the high court’s 6-3 ruling on affirmative action this week, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that none of the military academies were part of the case before the justices, and therefore the decision does not address how race-based admission systems may impact “the potentially distinct interests that military academies may present.”
Wicker, who plans to offer his legislation as an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill during floor debate in July, said the move is needed to bring “fairness” back to the armed forces and refocus military leaders on lethality, readiness and other relevant force priorities.
On Friday, Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Wisc., introduced similar language as an amendment to the House draft of the annual authorization bill, banning the Defense Department from “granting preferential treatment to any person or group based in whole or in part on race.”
Senate Democratic leaders have already pushed back against those proposals, calling them political interference in the military’s efforts to ensure that the fighting force represents the demographics of the country at large.
Numerous Democrats also sharply criticized the Supreme Court’s Thursday ruling, and called the exception for military academies perplexing.
“So military academies can use race-conscious admissions policies because it’s fine to explicitly and intentionally send our Black and brown kids off to die, but not explicitly and intentionally give them access to education?” Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., wrote in a social media post following the Supreme Court ruling.
Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo. and an Army veteran, echoed that sentiment, calling the decision “outright grotesque” because of the military carve out.
Last year, as part of the case pending before the Supreme Court, 35 former top military leaders filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that affirmative action was necessary for national security, both in the academies and for Reserve Officer Training Corps students at private universities.
The Republican measures face a difficult legislative path ahead. Wicker’s language is unlikely to advance in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Tiffany’s measure could see more success in the Republican-controlled House, but would still have to survive negotiations with Senate leaders before becoming law.
Both chambers are expected to resume debate on the authorization bills — which include hundreds of policy changes and budget priorities for the military — when they return from their current break on July 10.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.