The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will take on the rather sticky question of whether Scott R. Blake is a military veteran who should be entitled to a veterans hiring preference for a job in state government.
A Commonwealth Court panel already has ruled that the answer is yes, even though Blake, a former cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, never spent a single day on active service with the Army.
The Bloomsburg man’s connection to West Point and the fact that he went through basic training is enough to make the veterans preference cut, even though he didn’t graduate from the academy or go on active duty, the Commonwealth Court judges found.
The Supreme Court jumped into the dispute this week by accepting an appeal from the state Civil Service Commission, which argued that the lower court’s controversial decision deserves a second look.
A major issue the Supreme Court justices will ponder is whether the Commonwealth Court judges relied too heavily on – and misinterpreted – the definition of “soldier” under federal law in finding that Blake qualifies for a Pennsylvania hiring preference.
The legal battle over Blake’s status has been going on since 2014, when he appealed a Civil Service Commission ruling that denied him veterans preference status when he applied for a state job as a special investigator.
According to court filings, Blake attended West Point from July 1991 to January 1993, then transferred to a civilian college. He completed Army basic training while at West Point.
The Civil Service Commission found there was no “reasonable relation” between Blake’s abbreviated military record and the active military service that triggers the veterans hiring preference. However, it also conceded that Blake’s situation is unusual and is not clearly addresses in the state regulations regarding veteran hiring preferences.