I ended up on an email chain last week with Sarah Huckabee Sanders — the Republican governor of Arkansas, former Trump White House gladiator and a darling of the hard right.

I’m not surprised to learn that we disagree over the state of America. But the email convinced me that we most likely don’t agree on a lawsuit challenging Naval Academy admission policies that use race as a factor to balance its overwhelmingly white student body.

I got this moment of digital awareness through a Class of 2002 alum who writes treatises attacking academy culture. He sent an email to introduce me to some friends, and that led to this from Tom Burbage, Class of 1969:

We must never forget that our time left on this earth is limited and our impact is reduced as time goes on. But we have some responsibility in the quality of life for our kids and grandkids in their time left. We must somehow stop the insanity of the path we are on as a nation.

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God, Country and Family are the three-legged stool our belief system stands on. All are slowly burning down, not unlike the World Trade Center some 22 years ago.


Slow burn and then a sudden collapse. Wake up America.

Tom is Charles T. Burbage of Georgia, a retired vice president of Lockheed Martin, a co-founder of the Calvert Institute and a longtime friend of Sanders’ family. Even the governor of Arkansas, it would seem, can’t resist hitting “reply all.”

Thanks for sharing Tom. Appreciate your love of god, country and family and your willingness to fight for each of them.

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Hope you are doing well. We sure miss seeing y’all!

I can thank the lawsuit for this dystopian greeting card.

Students for Fair Admissions sued in federal court last week to stop the Naval Academy, which has a long history of past racism and did not have a Black graduate until 1949, from using race as an admissions factor. It echoes a lawsuit filed in September against the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

This is the same group that convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down race considerations in admissions at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That largely ended affirmative action at U.S. colleges and universities but left open an exception for military academies.

“No military academy is a party to these cases, however, and none of the courts below addressed the propriety of race-based admissions systems in that context,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a footnote to the June opinion.

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“This opinion also does not address the issue, in light of the potentially distinct interests that military academies may present.”

Students For Fair Admissions saw that as an invitation. It asked for a temporary injunction until the case against the Naval Academy is decided, probably by the high court.

“Those admissions are unconstitutional for all other public institutions of higher education,” the group’s attorneys wrote in the lawsuit.

Burbage and other members of The Calvert Institute are service academy grads who think their alma maters have gone off course, nowhere more so than in attempts to correct inequities created by centuries of enslavement and discrimination. They want merit to be the only way applicants are judged.

They got involved thanks to Chase Standage, Class of 2021. While a midshipman, he used Twitter (now renamed X) to post racist messages during protests in Los Angeles that followed the 2020 police killing of George Floyd. Some targeted Breonna Taylor, a Black medical worker, after she was shot dead in her apartment by Louisville police.

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Vice Adm. Sean Buck, then the Naval Academy superintendent, expelled the California student for his conduct, a decision that led to a lawsuit. The case was settled, and Standage was allowed to graduate.

Burbage and Sanders’ father — conservative commentator and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — joined others to raise money to cover for Standage’s legal bills. They moralized that he was distraught, that his father was a police officer injured in the protests. And besides, they said, Black mids tweeted offensive things, too.

“We started peeling back the onion and found a number of concerns,” Burbage said.

Their concerns soon evolved into The Calvert Institute, whose members pump out op-eds and meet with like-minded public officials in Washington. Their core belief is that white kids are being passed over by the academy in favor of Black or Latino kids that are not as qualified. That, they argue, will hurt the nation’s defense.

Except they have no proof. They ignore history, conveniently describing an era when white students who had all of the advantages were considered “best of the best.” They don’t think steps to level the playing field are fair.

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More, they don’t acknowledge the obvious — their argument casts Black and brown midshipmen today as less qualified because race might have been a factor in their selection.

“That’s how this is always thrown back at us,” Burbage said. “That’s not the issue. I have no problem with the kids who are there now.”

“It’s not racism.”

Maybe. But it sure is a careful selection of facts.

“We strive to recruit and admit young women and men reflective of the nation they will serve,” Buck told a Congressional subcommittee investigating admission policies. “Each incoming class should be a cross-section of America.”

Candidates are evaluated, he said, using a “holistic” examination of each individual record. Race is a factor, not a defining one, just like geography and socio-educational backgrounds and work experience.

The goal is a military that draws its strength from the whole population, including an officer corps that does that same.

In 2021, 60% of mids were white; 13% Hispanic or Latino; 10% mixed; 8% Asian; and 6% Black, while less than 1% were Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders, and less than 1% were American Indian or Alaska Native, according to Data USA, a nonprofit website for government demographics.

The plebes who started last summer were more diverse. Of the 1,175 members of the Class of 2027, almost half identify themselves as minorities, according to the Naval Academy portrait of the class.

That’s progress compared to the fleet, where 76% of officers are white, according to the Department of Defense. To supporters of diversity as an aspiration, the word has many meanings.

“It’s not just about gender and race. You can supply the same logic to geography,” said U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the Maryland Democrat who heads the academy Board of Visitors. “What if we decided that only candidates from certain states could apply to the academy? We would lose the diversity between urban and rural.”

The Pentagon is evaluating the implications of the June decision. With the Supreme Court’s current conservative supermajority, there’s not much doubt about the outcome of this dispute.

Before they decide, though, I’d like to buy John Roberts and the justices a hot dog.

I was selling them Saturday at the Navy football game, helping my wife’s Rotary Club raise money for Nick Mireles’ family. He was one of the victims of a mass shooting earlier this year.

Mids were black and white, Asian and Latino. Some were in dress blues, fatigues and even a few kilts. They were tall, they were short. They were male and female.

I met one mid who got to Annapolis after serving in the fleet, and another who carried a paperback copy of Stephen King’s “Misery” into the game.

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The plebes among them got a new experience this summer. They took part in “dignity and respect” discussions led by the chief diversity officer, Capt. Herb Lacy. For many, the Navy will be the most diverse place they’ll ever work.

The talks focused on part of the Midshipman Ethos that seems to be about the Chase Standage episode: “I respect and cherish the diverse backgrounds and talents of every Midshipman. I treat others with dignity and respect, both in person and online.”

The people behind the lawsuits and The Calvert Institute probably agree with this statement. They just want to define who gets to be a midshipman based on their experience. They don’t want a fair system, they want the same one that favored them.

I’ll bet that in the end, the mids at the game on Saturday will reject that limited vision of America when it’s their turn to lead.

When that happens, I’ll be sure to email Gov. Sanders.


Rick Hutzell is the Annapolis columnist for The Baltimore Banner. He writes about what's happening today, how we got here and where we're going next. The former editor of Capital Gazette, he led the newspaper to a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the 2018 mass shooting in its newsroom.

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