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Harvard University’s lawyers in their opening arguments in a highly publicized lawsuit argue that race can only help applicants during the admissions process.

Harvard’s legal team told U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs that students are never denied admission over their race alone.

{mosads}“Harvard never considers an applicant’s race to be negative,” Harvard lawyer William Lee said in his opening statement, Reuters reported. “If it considers race at all, it is always considered in a positive way.”

Harvard is facing a lawsuit from a group that says the university discriminates against Asian-American applicants. 

Advocacy group Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) claims Harvard holds Asian-American applicants to an unfair standard, illegally engaging in “racial balancing” that blocks qualified students from gaining admission due to their race, according to Reuters.

The lawsuit is backed by the Trump administration and could possibly reach the Supreme Court. 

The court’s decision could have lasting implications for the use of affirmative action in admissions processes. It is currently legal for universities to consider race as one factor among many when admitting a student, a practice that became widespread following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  

Affirmative action activists say it is one method for rectifying historical inequities between the races, giving marginalized black and Hispanic students a leg up following decades of educational discrimination. Those who denounce affirmative action say it disadvantages minority groups that perform well academically, such as Asian-Americans. 

SFFA first sued in 2014, saying Harvard should not consider race whatsoever, The Associated Press reported.

The Department of Justice last month launched a similar probe into Yale University’s admission of Asian-American students. 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions in July rescinded Obama-era guidelines that encouraged diversity in higher education, saying no American should be denied admission to school because of their race. 

Civil rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argued a reversal of affirmative action policies could create more racial inequality.  

“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,” the ACLU said in a statement at the time. 

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