Court Battles

DOJ backs lawsuit alleging bias against Asian-Americans in Harvard admissions

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The Department of Justice (DOJ) is throwing its support behind a group of Asian-American students who are suing Harvard University for allegedly discriminating against them in the school’s admissions process.

In a 40-page statement of interest Thursday, DOJ attorneys said the record of evidence shows Harvard’s race-based admissions process significantly disadvantages Asian-American applicants compared to applicants of other racial groups, including both white applicants and applicants from other racial minority groups.

{mosads}“The evidence, moreover, shows that Harvard provides no meaningful criteria to cabin its use of race; uses a vague ‘personal rating’ that harms Asian-American applicants’ chances for admission and may be infected with racial bias; engages in unlawful racial balancing; and has never seriously considered race-neutral alternatives in its more than 45 years of using race to make admissions decisions,” the attorneys said.

The DOJ urged the court to reject Harvard’s request to issue a summary judgment in its favor without going to trial.

DOJ said it’s working to “assure that public tax dollars, drawn from the tax contributions of all citizens, do not serve to finance the evil of private prejudice.”

But in a statement Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union lambasted the department, calling the decision to side with the students its latest move to dismantle progress in racial equity.

“This argument comes on the heels of the administration’s decision to reverse the Obama-era guidance on affirmative action,” ACLU said.

“While the DOJ’s brief does not challenge Supreme Court precedent granting universities the right to freely select their own student body — presumably because it cannot do so at this stage of the litigation — the Trump administration has advocated for “race-blind” policies, which Harvard and virtually all other universities have found are demonstrably insufficient to achieve meaningful diversity, given the reality of historic and continuing racial discrimination in this country.”

In July, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded guidance that was finalized under President Obama that encouraged diversity in higher education, documents that included legal guidelines for how schools should properly consider race in college admissions.

Sessions said in a statement at the time that no American should be denied admission to school because of their race. 

“As a recipient of taxpayer dollars, Harvard has a responsibility to conduct its admissions policy without racial discrimination by using meaningful admissions criteria that meet lawful requirements,” he said.

“The Department of Justice has the responsibility to protect the civil rights of the American people. This case is significant because the admissions policies at our colleges and universities are important and must be conducted lawfully.” 

Harvard has countered it does not discriminate against applicants of any race, including Asian Americans, engage in “racial balancing” or impose racial quotas of any kind.

The school argues the Students for Fair Admissions Inc. (SFFA), which brought the lawsuit, is not a true membership organization that can sue on behalf of its members.

“It is a litigation vehicle designed to further the ideological objectives of its founder, Edward Blum,” the school argued.

SFFA says it’s a nonprofit membership organization with over 22,000 members whose mission is to eliminate racial and ethnic classifications and preferences in college admissions.

Updated at 12:01 p.m.

Tags Admissions Department of Justice Education Harvard Jeff Sessions

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