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On a related note, students at the military academies are nominated by individual senators and congressmen. Upon graduation, Congress passes a law to commission the new officers. (from a recent answer on Politics.SE)

While that fact isn't new to me, reading that post I realized that I am wholly unfamiliar with the rationale for such a system.

Why is it that civilian politicians are given the power to nominate cadets to military academies? That seems wholly outside the purvue of legislature, or politicians in the first place.

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If not them, then who? If all the nominations were made by the military, then a charismatic leader could dominate the nominations and take de facto control of the military. If all the nominations were made by the President, then the President could build up a military loyal to him. Putting most of the nominations under control of Congress and distributed among all members means that people from all geographic locations have an opportunity to be nominated. Also, appointments will be made by members of all parties.

Realize that this system dates back to the founding, when George Washington most likely could have been king if he wanted. They wanted a military under civilian control. Requiring legislators to nominate candidates and approve their commissions after graduation keeps giving officers reason to be grateful to legislators. This is important, because the rest of their interactions are likely to involve the legislators blocking things that the officers want.

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    Um. Perhaps a dumb question, but why not applicants nominating themselves like you do with any normal educational institution? – user4012 Mar 28 '16 at 14:10
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    At a normal educational institution, there isn't a nomination process at all. "Applicants" are people who apply for their position; at the United States military academies, this application process involves soliciting the support of your congressperson. As stated in this answer, it is partly an issue of sovereignty, but as compared to other academic institutions, it's just like any other hurtle: Essays, SAT scores, GPA, letters of recommendation... There are many forms of proof that a prospective student is expected to furnish to demonstrate their excellence. This is one of them. – Eikre Mar 28 '16 at 15:46
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    @Eikre but from a practical POV, either a) the representative does not know of the applicants and only can read the reports (and in this case, there is no need for a representative to do this task) or b) those with connections to the representative have an unfair advantage. Maybe in 1780 there were only 20 people who were educated, in the correct age range and white in any state, and all of them knew a representative because the only way to get an education was being from a rich family; but in the XXIst century it just looks strange. – SJuan76 Apr 19 '16 at 9:44
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    Representatives may not know the applicants before the process, but they have every chance to know them after the process. And that still doesn't address the problems with every other system: that they give power to the people making the decision. If not the elected representatives who already have all sorts of power, who should get it? You could make an objective formula from things like SAT scores and grades, but are those really the best predictors of success in the military? This isn't an education -- it's officer training. People wanting an education can go elsewhere more easily. – Brythan Apr 20 '16 at 1:19
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    @Brythan - you're making an assumption that being able to get nominated by a congresscritter is a better predictor of success in the military than SAT scores (or specialized examinations tailored to the military)? That seems to be an assumption in giant need of proof, sorry. – user4012 Dec 3 '16 at 3:33

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