Judge rules in favor of Harvard in divisive affirmative action lawsuit

Oct. 3, 2019, 12:02 a.m.

The long-awaited decision surrounding the Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard University case — tried last fall — was delivered in favor of Harvard on Tuesday. The plaintiffs, the Students for Fair Admissions group led by conservative legal strategist Edward Blum, alleged that Harvard discriminated against Asian-American applicants by favoring black and Hispanic applicants in their admissions process. 

In her decision, however, U.S. District Court Judge Allison Burroughs stated that “the Court finds no persuasive documentary evidence of any racial animus or conscious prejudice against Asian Americans” in the admissions process at Harvard.

Stanford, which filed an amicus brief in support of Harvard’s practice of diversity review in college admissions, was “gratified” by the ruling, according to University spokesperson E.J. Miranda, “affirming the right of universities to consider all kinds of diversity in making admissions decisions in accordance with the law.” Stanford was one of 15 other elite universities to file an amicus brief.

“We believe that having a diverse student body with a broad array of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives is essential to a high-quality educational experience for students,” Miranda wrote in an email to The Daily, emphasizing the University’s holistic admissions review process. 

Burroughs conceded in her ruling that Harvard’s admissions program is “not perfect” and acknowledging the dangers of implicit biases affecting the admissions officers’ judgement, but ultimately found that Harvard’s admissions process “passes constitutional muster” in regards to affirmative action. She rejected the plaintiff’s arguments that Harvard held Asian American applicants to higher standards, disadvantaged them with a subjective personality rating and racially balanced its classes. 

The case is fully expected to be appealed, according to The New York Times, and is expected to make its way to the Supreme Court. Should the case reach the Supreme Court, it is unclear exactly how it will be ultimately resolved and whether affirmative action will continue to be upheld as it was in the landmark 2016 Fisher v. University of Texas case — a case where the court even pointed to Harvard’s admissions as an example of constitutional affirmative action.

The Harvard admissions lawsuit and the Fisher case were both orchestrated by Blum, the man behind the Students for Fair Admissions group representing a number of Asian American students who were rejected from Harvard. Blum is a notable politically conservative anti-affirmative action advocate who is also behind pending affirmative action lawsuits against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Texas at Austin.

In contrast to Blum’s previous legal challenges where white applicants were alleged to have been discriminated against, the Harvard case makes the argument that affirmative action benefits certain minority groups —Hispanics and African Americans — at the expense of minority Asian Americans.

Stanford’s amicus brief supporting Harvard acknowledged its own practices of race-conscious admissions and how “doing so significantly deepens the students’ educational experience.”

This is not the first time that the University has backed affirmative action. When the Fisher decision was released in 2016, Stanford issued a press release celebrating the ruling’s affirmation of the importance of diversity in crafting classes. Then-University President John Hennessy wrote that the decision allowed Stanford to continue to evaluate candidates for admission to Stanford in a holistic, individualized process.

Contact Sean Lee at seanklee ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Sean Lee '22 is the desk editor for the University News beat. He is interested in studying Political Science, History, International Relations, the humanities and the intersections between the humanities and STEM. An avid boba connoisseur and adventure seeker, he proudly hails from Arcadia, Los Angeles, California. Contact him at seanklee 'at' stanford.edu.

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