Author: Ralph W. Kasarda
According to the Navy's Diversity Events Calendar, the League of United Latin American Citizens will hold its annual conference this year in New Mexico – and senior Hispanic officers "are encouraged to attend." The Navy also encourages Hispanic officers to attend other events, such as one hosted by the Hispanic Engineering Science & Technology in Texas; a symposium by the Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists in California; a conference of the Hispanic Engineer National Achievements Awards Corporation in Florida; and others.
Senior African American officers "are encouraged to attend" the convention of the Tuskegee Airmen in Texas; the Blacks in Government conference in Missouri; a conference of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the White House Initiative Conference in Washington, D.C. "All African American Flag Officers are encouraged to attend" the Black Engineer of the Year Awards in Washington, D.C.
So is the Navy granting temporary additional duty orders based on race? While the private organizations and events listed above are laudable, there is one problem: The Navy is not a private organization. In its administration it must abide by the Constitution.
In 1896, Supreme Court Justice Marshall Harlan wrote in his dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, "our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens." This is the guiding principal by which both federal and state governments must operate. Hence, encouraging military officers of only one race to attend events, and then issuing them orders to do so, offends the Constitution.
In Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke, and again in Wygant v. Jackson Bd of Educ., the Supreme Court declared that "racial and ethnic distinctions of any sort are inherently suspect and thus call for the most exacting judicial examination." In Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena, the Court held that all governmental action based on race should be subjected to the most vigorous and exacting judicial inquiry to ensure that the personal right to equal protection of the laws has not been infringed.
The Navy is classifying its officers on the basis of race in order to promote diversity in its ranks. According to Navy policy, "when people look for mentors and role models, they often seek out someone with similar characteristics to themselves." The Navy believes that when individuals see someone with "like characteristics" succeeding in an organization, they can envision themselves succeeding within that organization, too. Would the Navy's belief in a race-based role model theory justify classifying its officers on the basis of race? No. That theory was soundly rejected by the Supreme Court in Wygant v. Board of Education. For more on the role model theory and its rejection by the Supreme Court, see here.
The Navy would never encourage officers of only one race to attend training schools, such as flight school or dive school. It should not make an exception when it sends officers to attend private trade conferences.