NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Racial Preferences in the Military

March 25, 2002

The U.S. Army has been generally viewed as a model of successful racial integration. However, on March 4, 2002, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth struck down as unconstitutional what he called the Army's "use of racial and gender classifications in its promotion policy."

Judge Lamberth concluded that the detailed "equal-opportunity instructions" provided to Army "selection boards" amounts to a "statement of preference for minorities and females" and that they "clearly imply that disproportionate promotion [of whites or males] is in some way a disfavored result." (The current instructions, revised in 1999, were not directly at issue.)

  • The equal-opportunity instructions did not directly mandate more promotions for minorities and women; but they did state: "Your goal is to achieve a selection rate in each minority and gender group ... that is not less than the selection rate for all [eligible] officers."
  • Another provision required selection boards to "identify" and "explain" any "situation where a particular minority-gender subgroup did not fare well in comparison to the overall population."
  • Still other provisions repeatedly stressed the need to "be alert to the possibility of past personal or institutional discrimination" against minorities and women.

However, Lamberth noted, "the promotion rate of black officers in the five years preceding the adoption of the 1993 policy ... suggests that such officers were promoted at rates comparable to, and sometimes greater than, their white colleagues." Women had also won a proportionate share of promotions.

And while the instructions cautioned against using a "quota," Lamberth held that "a defendant may not cleanse a policy of an impermissible preference merely by disclaiming that preference."

Within the officer ranks, observers say, preferences have "actually become a matter of bitter debate."

SOURCE: Stuart Taylor Jr., "Racial Preferences in the Army: The Problem, the Solution," National Journal, March 12, 2002.


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