By Nate Raymond and Phil Stewart
(Reuters) -The group that successfully challenged race-conscious collegiate student admissions policies at the U.S. Supreme Court sued the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on Tuesday, saying the Army school's affirmative action practices unconstitutionally discriminate against white applicants.
The Virginia-based Students for Fair Admissions, founded by affirmative action opponent Edward Blum, seeks in the lawsuit to erase an exemption tucked inside the Supreme Court's June ruling that allowed the prestigious U.S. military academies to continue using race as one of the factors weighed in student admissions.
That ruling, powered by the court's conservative majority, rejected policies long used by American colleges and universities to increase the number of Black, Hispanic and other minority students on American campuses.
The Supreme Court's invalidation of admissions policies used by Harvard University of the University of North Carolina did not address the consideration of race in admissions at West Point in New York, as well as the Naval Academy in Maryland and the Air Force Academy in Colorado. Chief Justice John Roberts, who authored the ruling, wrote in a footnote that the military academies had "potentially distinct interests."
The Biden administration had argued in a brief in that case that "the effectiveness of our military depends on a diverse officer corps that is ready to lead an increasingly diverse fighting force."
Many institutions of higher education, corporations and military leaders long have backed affirmative action on campuses to ensure a talent pool that can bring a range of perspectives to the workplace and the U.S. armed forces.
Blum's group filed the lawsuit in federal court in White Plains, New York. It accused West Point of violating the principle of equal protection enshrined in the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment and sought an order barring the academy from considering an applicant's race during admissions.
It said that two of its members - white male high school students who were not identified - were ready and able to apply to West Point but that their race would prevent them "from competing for admission on an equal footing."
The lawsuit said that West Point engaged in "racial balancing" when deciding who will be a future cadet and set benchmarks for the percentage of each class that should be filled by "African Americans," "Hispanics," and "Asians."
Minorities made up 39% of the 1,255 cadets admitted into West Point for its 2027 class, according to its website.
Blum, who is white, said in a statement on Tuesday that "no level of deference justifies these polarizing and disliked racial classifications and preferences in admissions to West Point or any of our service academies."
A West Point spokesperson had no immediate comment.
Established in 1802, West Point boasts graduates including former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, one of the first humans to walk on the moon. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the first Black person to hold that job, also is a West Point graduate.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Blum's group in June despite upholding affirmative action in student admissions as recently as 2016. Students for Fair Admissions had argued that the policies it challenged discriminated against white and Asian American applicants.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham)