Harvard is asking the Supreme Court to reject a challenge to the school’s race-based admissions approach, urging the justices to leave intact decades of settled law permitting its policy.
The school’s court filing on Monday comes in response to a petition by the conservative-backed group Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), which claimed the school illegally discriminates against Asian American applicants.
Harvard, in its 47-page opposition brief, denied the allegation and accused SFFA of trying to undermine long-standing precedent allowing schools to promote on-campus diversity by considering the racial makeup of their student bodies.
“Having failed to make the case that Harvard’s admissions practices contravene the court’s precedents governing the use of race in admissions, SFFA asks the court to overthrow them,” Harvard wrote. “But SFFA offers no legitimate justification for such an extraordinary step.”
If the 6-3 conservative court agrees to hear the case, it could tee up a landmark showdown over the use of racial distinctions in higher education admissions.
SFFA, in its petition, asks the court to overturn Grutter v. Bollinger, a 2003 decision in which the Supreme Court upheld the right of college admissions boards to factor in applicants’ race in order to benefit minority groups and enhance diversity.
“Grutter’s core holding — that universities can use race in admissions to pursue student-body diversity — is plainly wrong,” the group's petition states. The challengers say their case against Harvard’s policy gives the court an “ideal vehicle” for reevaluating its stance on affirmative action given the school’s outsize role in past rulings.
The appeal comes after a Boston-based federal judge ruled in 2019 that the school’s admissions program did not unlawfully discriminate against Asian Americans, a decision that was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit.
The case is Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, No. 20-1199.