Appeals court upholds Harvard's affirmative action admissions program

Appeals court upholds Harvard's affirmative action admissions program
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A federal appeals court on Thursday ruled that Harvard University's affirmative action admissions program does not violate civil rights law.

A two-judge panel for the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court decision that found the school's use of race as a factor in its admissions process complied with the Supreme Court's previous rulings on affirmative action.

"The issue before us is whether Harvard's limited use of race in its admissions process in order to achieve diversity in the period in question is consistent with the requirements of Supreme Court precedent. There was no error" in the district court's decision, Judge Sandra Lynch wrote in the panel's 104-page decision.


The lawsuit was brought in 2014 by the anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), which alleged that Harvard's use of race when evaluating applicants discriminated against Asian Americans in favor of white applicants and violated civil rights law.

Edward Blum, the president of SFFA, promised to take the case to the Supreme Court in response to Thursday's decision.

“While we are disappointed with the opinion of the First Circuit Court of Appeals, our hope is not lost," Blum said in a statement. "This lawsuit is now on track to go up to the U.S. Supreme Court where we will ask the justices to end these unfair and unconstitutional race-based admissions policies at Harvard and all colleges and universities.”

A Harvard spokeswoman said that the Thursday decision "once again finds that Harvard’s admissions policies are consistent with Supreme Court precedent, and lawfully and appropriately pursue Harvard’s efforts to create a diverse campus that promotes learning and encourages mutual respect and understanding in our community."

"As we have said time and time again, now is not the time to turn back the clock on diversity and opportunity," Harvard spokeswoman Rachael Dane added in the emailed statement.

When the case went to trial in 2018, the Trump administration filed a brief backing SFFA's claims as part of a broader effort to oppose affirmative action in higher education.


A district court judge sided with Harvard in 2019 following a 15-day trial.

The decision on Thursday could set the stage for a battle at the Supreme Court over efforts to diversify student bodies at elite academic institutions, potentially providing an early test for the high court's new 6-3 conservative majority.

Updated at 12:53 a.m.