Harvard Wins Round 1 of Anti-Affirmative Action Lawsuit - American Society of Employers - Anthony Kaylin

Harvard Wins Round 1 of Anti-Affirmative Action Lawsuit

gavelA Massachusetts federal court judge ruled against the anti-affirmative action coalition suing Harvard over its admissions standards.  The coalition Students for Fair Admissions or SFFA argued that Harvard’s process discriminated against Asian-American applicants because of a subjective personal rating through which those applicants received lower scores due to racial bias.   In effect SFFA argued that the president and fellows of Harvard College violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by limiting the number of Asian American applicants accepted.  The U.S. Department of Justice backed SFAA, claiming that “Harvard provides no meaningful criteria to cabin its use of race.”

In October 2018 there was a three-week trial after which in February 2019 the parties came back to conduct closing arguments.  Yesterday the judge ruled in favor of Harvard. 

The judge ruled that SFFA could not present a single application of a rejected applicant that reflected racial animus in the Harvard admissions process.  However, the SFFA disagreed.  “We believe that the documents, emails, data analysis, and depositions that SFFA presented at trial compellingly revealed Harvard’s systematic discrimination against Asian-American applicants,” SFFA legal strategist Ed Blum said in a statement after the ruling. “SFFA will appeal this decision to the First Court of Appeals and, if necessary, to the U.S Supreme Court.”

The judge also ruled in a 130-page decision that her decision follows the standards set forth by the Supreme Court’s decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003), which held that a student admissions process that favors "underrepresented minority groups" does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause so long as it takes into account other factors evaluated on an individual basis for every applicant.  The judge in this case stated that Harvard University’s admission process gets an “A” grade, finding the school’s consideration of race and personal traits ensures a diverse student body.

The Judge also cited the Supreme Court’s ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas (2016) or the Fisher II case.  In that case the Supreme Court found that the University of Texas had provided a reasoned and principled articulation of concrete and precise goals for its race-conscious admissions program, including destroying racial stereotypes, promoting cross-racial understanding, preparing the student body for an increasingly diverse workforce and society, cultivating leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, providing an educational environment that fosters the robust exchange of ideas, exposure to different cultures, and the acquisition of the competencies required of future leaders.

The Judge compared the Harvard admissions process with the previous cases and stated that “[t]he students who are admitted to Harvard and choose to attend will live and learn surrounded by all sorts of people, with all sorts of experiences, beliefs, and talents.  They will have the opportunity to know and understand one another beyond race, as whole individuals with unique histories and experiences.”

Yet not all was rosy for Harvard.  The judge did state that Harvard’s admission process could benefit from implicit-bias training for admissions officers, maintaining clear guidelines developed during this litigation to focus on the use of race in the admissions process, monitoring admissions officers, and making them aware of any significant race-related statistical disparities in the rating process.  These statements could be used against the university on appeal.

This case will be appealed and eventually make it to the Supreme Court.  With a 5-4 conservative to liberal standing on the court, this case could be used to determine that university admissions using affirmative action principles are unlawful or be more broadly pronounced and rule all affirmative action is illegal unless as a remedy for historical discrimination.

Source: Law.com 10/1/19, Law360 10/1/19

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