Report: Congress Nominates Far Fewer Women than Men to Military Service Academies

Members of the 116th Congress nominate women to the military service academies at dramatically different rates than men, according to a new report released today by the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center (CVLC).

The report, “Gatekeepers to Opportunity,” was authored by Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic for the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, with assistance from the Service Women’s Action Network and Protect Our Defenders.

“Nearly every young person who wants to attend a military service academy must secure a congressional nomination to become eligible for admission,” said Liam Brennan, Executive Director of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center. “This makes Members of Congress essential gatekeepers to the admissions process. But the dramatic gender disparity in nomination rates means that members, including many who are deeply committed to gender equality, have failed to recruit and nominate exceptional young women to the academies.”

Using nearly twenty-five years of nominations data obtained from the admissions offices at the U.S. Military Academy (USMA West Point), the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA), and U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA), the report ranks members of the current Congress based on the percentage of women they have nominated to these prestigious, taxpayer-funded institutions since taking office. The rankings, which include each member of the 116th Congress who has nominated more than ten total candidates, reveal nomination rates that range from 3% women (Jodey Arrington, R-TX) to 55% women (Amata Coleman Radewagen, R-American Samoa).

CVLC’s report highlights the top 15 and bottom 15 members of the House and Senate by percentage of women nominated to USMA, USNA, and USAFA. These lists include a number of past and present presidential hopefuls. In the Senate, for example, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN, 16% female nominations) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT, 17%) place among the bottom 15, while Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ, 40%), Kamala Harris (D-CA, 34%), Marco Rubio (R-FL, 34%) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY, 34%) place among the top 15.

Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ), a graduate of the Air Force Academy who made news this year when she publicly disclosed that she survived a sexual assault by a senior officer, had the second-highest percentage of female nominations in the senate (38%), trailing only Senator Booker and tying Mazie Hirono (D-HI). Only Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS), the nonvoting delegate from American Samoa, nominated as many women as men to the service academies.

The report also highlights key trends in congressional nominations to these service academies over the past twenty-five years.

The report offers several recommendations to help policymakers create a more equitable application process for women applicants. Finding that Congressional offices currently employ a wide range of application requirements and procedures, CVLC calls on Members of Congress to consider the gender distribution of their nominations and implement consistent selection practices that will minimize existing barriers to women applicants. These include partnering with guidance counselors to identify promising young women in high school and inviting women alumnae of the academies to participate in interview panels and community outreach.

“Our service members and veterans face incredible barriers in this country,” said Brennan. “Our elected officials should be working to break down those walls, but this report shows that they have been systematically routing far more young men than young women into elite opportunities at the academies. Congress members need to actively recruit diverse nominees in order to produce military leadership that better reflects the country.”

“It is absurd that this data could only be accessed via a Freedom of Information Act request,” stated Col. (Ret.) Ellen Haring, C.E.O. of Service Women’s Action Network and member of the West Point Class of 1984. “Congressional appointments to the military service academies should be completely transparent and reported annually by Congress itself, since its members are the gateway to a taxpayer-provided educational benefit that is supposed to be available to all citizens equally.”

Col. (Ret.) Don Christensen, President of Protect Our Defenders, weighed in as well: “Our military is facing a sexual assault crisis, and our leadership is not doing enough to address the problem. The service academies produce some of the highest-ranking leaders in our armed forces. Closing the gender gap at these institutions is an important step toward creating a more safe and just environment for our service members.”

Kath Xu ’20, a Yale Law student who coauthored the report, added, “The numbers speak for themselves—women have rarely exceeded a quarter of the nominations submitted to the academies by Members of Congress in any given year. The gender gap in nominations also cuts across party lines—each party has collectively nominated only about a fifth women. A small change could make a big difference in this space if Members of Congress would use standard procedures, report their numbers, and make an effort to reach out to diverse candidates.”

The Veterans Legal Services Clinic, part of the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School, represents veterans and organizations like POD and CVLC in national litigation and regulatory and legislative reform efforts.

Connecticut Veterans Legal Center (CVLC) helps veterans recovering from homelessness and mental illness overcome legal barriers to housing, healthcare, and income. Formed in 2009, CVLC was the first medical-legal partnership to integrate legal services on-site at VA mental health facilities. In addition to in-house legal staff, hundreds of volunteer attorneys across the country work with CVLC to help low-income veterans resolve legal issues that destabilize their housing, employability, disability income, transportation, and family relationships.