Federal Judge Rules Harvard Admissions Do Not Discriminate Against Asian Americans

A federal judge ruled in favor of Harvard University in a case that questioned how the university’s admissions process considered Asian American applicants.

The lawsuit alleged Harvard weighed race too heavily when reviewing applications and in a manner that discriminated against Asian Americans. An anonymous group of Asian Americans turned down by the admissions process claimed the university favored Black and Hispanic applicants at the expense of Asian students.

Federal District Court Judge Allison D. Burroughs ruled on October 1 that “the Court finds no persuasive documentary evidence of any racial animus or conscious prejudice against Asian Americans.”

Burroughs noted that Harvard’s admissions program is “not perfect,” but said that the school relies on “race conscious admissions” to ensure it has a diverse student population, NPR reported. She also suggested Harvard could work on the unconscious biases of admissions officers.

The judge defended the benefits of diversity in her decision, adding that it will “foster the tolerance, acceptance, and understanding that will ultimately make race conscious admissions obsolete.”

The plaintiffs were represented by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), led by conservative activist Edward Blum. According to The New York Times, Blum has previously led battles against affirmative action. Blum was also a key figure in the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder, which eliminated an important provision of the Voting Rights Act.

SFFA alleged that Harvard intentionally discriminated against Asian Americans, used race as a major factor in determining admissions, racially balanced its classes, and considered race before using race-neutral alternatives to establish diversity. However, Burroughs cleared Harvard of those four claims.

Blum has filed at least two other challenges to affirmative action, one against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in federal court and one against the University of Texas at Austin in state court, The New York Times reported.

In a letter to the Harvard community, Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow celebrated the ruling as a victory for diversity and inclusion.

“The consideration of race, alongside many other factors, helps us achieve our goal of creating a diverse student body that enriches the education of every student,” he wrote.

“Everyone admitted to Harvard College has something unique to offer our community, and today we reaffirm the importance of diversity — and everything it represents to the world.”

Harvard’s lead attorney, William F. Lee, said in a statement that the court’s decision ”unequivocally affirms that Harvard does not discriminate on the basis of race in its admissions process, and that Harvard’s pursuit of the diverse student body central to its educational mission is lawful.”

The plaintiffs plan to appeal the case, and it is expected to reach the Supreme Court, according to The New York Times. If it does reach the Supreme Court, it could present a significant legal challenge to affirmative action nationwide.

“Students for Fair Admissions is disappointed that the court has upheld Harvard’s discriminatory admissions policies,” Blum said in a statement. “We believe that the documents, emails, data analysis, and depositions SFFA presented at trial compellingly revealed Harvard’s systematic discrimination against Asian American applicants.”

According to Vox, the case could have devastating consequences for affirmative action if it heads to the Supreme Court. Questions brought up during the trial could influence school programs dedicated to increasing racial diversity and potentially make them illegal.

The plaintiffs received the support of the Trump administration, which filed a statement of interest arguing Harvard “failed to show that it does not unlawfully discriminate against Asian Americans.” Last summer, the Trump administration discontinued a guidance from the Obama administration on race in admissions and called on schools to use a race-neutral approach in admissions.

While Harvard won this case, the university’s admissions process is under a separate investigation by the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, The Harvard Crimson reported. The student newspaper reported that the Justice Department launched its investigation in 2017.

The trial, which began last October in Boston’s federal courthouse, also revealed the mixed feelings about affirmative action within the Asian American community.

“The court’s ruling today confirmed what the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld: affirmative action policies expand equal education opportunity for all people of color, including Asian Americans, and are legal,” Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said according to Vox.


About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.