Fate of Harvard Admissions Suit Left in Judge’s Hands

BOSTON (CN) – A lawyer for students suing Harvard over its admissions policy pleaded with the court Friday at closing arguments to slam the door on “the wolf of discrimination.”

Rowers paddle down the Charles River past the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., on March 7, 2017. A federal judge in Boston heard closing arguments on Nov. 2, 2018, in a highly publicized lawsuit alleging that elite Harvard discriminates against Asian-Americans. Much of the spotlight has been on affluent Chinese-Americans with stellar academic scores who say the college rejects Asians in favor of lesser-qualified applicants. They say factoring in race hurts Asian-Americans. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

“Someday this will be written about in the history books, and those books may say that Harvard let the wolf of discrimination through the front door,” said Adam Mortara, of Bartlit Beck. “We hope those books will say this court slammed the door shut.”

Mortara gave his statements on behalf of Students for Fair Admissions, which sued Harvard in 2014 with claims that the university discriminates against Asian-American applicants.

Due to the high number of applicants with near-perfect academic records, the school used a series of other factors to determine a personal rating.

“The evidence is inescapable that race is used in the personal rating,” said Mortara. “If race is used in the personal rating, the statistical battle is over.”

Representing Harvard meanwhile Wilmer Hale attorney Bill Lee pointed to the thus-far unsuccessful track record of Ed Blum, the activist who created Students for Fair Admissions, in fighting affirmative-action policies at the University of Texas in 2013 and 2016.

“The goal of SFFA is to eliminate all consideration of race in admissions,” said Lee. “The founder of SFFA pursued that in Fisher I. He was unsuccessful. He pursued it on behalf of white applicants in Fisher II and was unsuccessful.”

Harvard acknowledged the race is one of many factors when weighing applicants, but the school’s expert data analyst testified in the trial that elimination of race as a consideration would cause admissions for black and Hispanic students to drop while benefitting white and Asian-American applicants.

Chart shows the educational attainment of various populations in the U.S.

Lee referenced Mortara’s closing statement, arguing that the “real wolves” were “those who would dramatically reduce African-American and Hispanic students on our college campuses today.”

Cara McClellan of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund gave closing remarks on behalf of the large coalition of students groups and activists groups that submit briefs as friends of the court.

“Their testimony made clear that the dramatic reduction in black and Latinx students on campus from the loss of race-conscious admissions, estimated at 50 percent, would be devastating for all Harvard students,” she said, using a gender-neutral term used in lieu of Latino or Latina.

As a bench trial, there is no jury to render a decision, so it is expected to take weeks, if not months for U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs to issue her ruling in the case.

“The issues raised in this care are incredibly important, both to the parties in this case, but also the world,” said Burroughs. “I hope our final work product is worthy of the effort put into it.”

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