Military Affirming College Affirmative Action

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The Supreme Court is weighing just how much an applicant’s race can be taken into account when it comes to granting admission to the University of Texas. A recent friend-of-the-court filing by retired U.S. military generals and admirals — with more than 1,200 years’ combined service — makes clear they believe it’s fair to do so.

Oral arguments in the case are slated for October 10 – shortly before the presidential election – and there is concern in some quarters that an increasingly conservative high court could rule the vague affirmative-action guidelines it approved in 2003 are now unconstitutional.

That, the retired officers say, would make developing the diverse officer corps they say is needed to command the nation’s military much tougher.

The roster of those who signed the brief is impressive: three chairmen of the Joint Chiefs (Army General Colin Powell, Army General Henry Shelton, and Navy Admiral Mike Mullen), a vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs (Admiral Edmund P. Giambastiani, Jr.) and a host of combatant commanders (including Army General John Abizaid, Admiral Dennis Blair, Army General Bryan Brown, Army General Wesley Clark, Admiral Joseph W. Prueher and Marine General Anthony Zinni).

Not to mention martial luminaries including former Air Force chief of staff General Ron Fogleman, former CIA deputy director (and current University of Texas professor, and alum) Admiral Bobby R. Inman, Army General Jack Keane, Marine commandant General Carl Mundy, and Medal of Honor winner and one-time senator Bob Kerrey, who is seeking re-election to a Nebraska Senate seat once again this fall. There’s also one lone woman, Vice Admiral Ann E. Rondeau. And one lone civilian, Joe Reeder, a former Army under-secretary.

“Hundreds of additional military leaders could have been added had there been sufficient time to process everyone, one-by-one, who wanted to formally support the University of Texas,” Reeder said Tuesday. “Our fighting force is as diverse as America itself. Ensuring an officer corps that also reflects the diversity of this fighting force remains essential to our national security.”

Reeder co-authored the filing, which says, in part:

Unlike many other institutions, the military operates on a closed personnel system with its top leaders chosen not from outside, but rather, promoted from the lower ranks. As a consequence, the demographic composition of initial officer accessions is critical to the achievement of a diverse military officer corps…there are at present no race-neutral means for the military to fulfill its critical need for a highly qualified and diverse officer corps.

…while this case focuses on university admissions, its impact dramatically transcends academia. In evaluating the constitutionality of respondents’ limited consideration of race in admissions decisions, amici respectfully submit the Court should consider the military’s interests. Fulfillment of the national security interest in officer corps diversity must not be imperiled by a sweeping ruling against race-conscious admissions.

Be interesting to see if the military weighing in like this makes the high court think twice before reversing its 2003 decision.