BOSTON (CN) – In a case set to be the nation’s next big test on affirmative action, the Department of Justice urged a federal judge Thursday to side with Asian-American students accusing Harvard of discrimination.
“Harvard has failed to carry its demanding burden to show that its use of race does not inflict unlawful racial discrimination on Asian Americans,” the United States wrote in a 40-page statement of interest. “To the contrary, the record evidence demonstrates that Harvard’s race-based admissions process significantly disadvantages Asian-American applicants compared to applicants of other racial groups— including both white applicants and applicants from other racial minority groups.”
Harvard is seeking summary judgment in the suit by the group Students for Fair Admissions Inc., and the American Civil Liberties Union was quick this morning to criticize the Trump administration’s input.
“In its latest move to dismantle progress in racial equity, the Department of Justice has inserted itself into the Harvard University admissions lawsuit, challenging Harvard’s consideration of race as part of a whole-person admissions process,” the ALCU said in a statement. “This argument comes on the heels of the administration’s decision to reverse the Obama-era guidance on affirmative action.”
Several other groups have filed their own briefs in support of Harvard since the release by the Department of Justice.
The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund argued that the university’s admissions policies actually benefit Asian-American applicants. Predicting that removing Harvard’s policy would primarily benefit white students, the fund said that comparing admissions among all Asians as a monolithic group fails to consider diversity among Asians.
While Harvard’s challengers have cited an expert whose research purportedly shows a racial bias against Asian Americans in Harvard’s admissions, this study has been labeled illegitimate in one brief by a group of 15 economics professors and statisticians, and another coalition of 531 social scientists and scholars on college.
Students for Fair Admissions brought the underlying suit in 2014, saying that Harvard discriminates against prospective white and Asian students by allowing race to be one of several different factors in admission acceptance.
The DOJ previous filed a notice of interest in the case on April 6, supporting a motion from SFFA to keep Harvard’s admissions practices and records unsealed when they were submitted evidence.
At the time, the department said that the information would be useful as part of the department’s own investigation into Harvard’s use of race in admissions practice, which began when Attorney General Jeff Sessions took over in 2017.
“No American should be denied admission to school because of their race. As a recipient of taxpayer dollars, Harvard has a responsibility to conduct its admissions policy without racial discrimination by using meaningful admissions criteria that meet lawful requirements,” Attorney General Sessions in a statement Thursday. “The Department of Justice has the responsibility to protect the civil rights of the American people. This case is significant because the admissions policies at our colleges and universities are important and must be conducted lawfully.”