U.S. Court of Appeals Upholds Ruling That Harvard Admissions Policy Is Not Wrong

A U.S. federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a 2019 ruling on allegations that Harvard University’s admissions process discriminates against Asian students, rejecting claims by affirmative action opponents that the Ivy League’s admissions policy discriminates against Asians.

Opponents of the ruling have said they will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. Some legal experts are concerned that the current Supreme Court majority with conservative-leaning justices could end a 40-year practice of allowing race to be used as an admissions factor in the field of higher education.

A two-judge panel of the First Circuit Court of Appeals found that Harvard’s consideration of race in its student admissions process did not violate civil rights laws. In its quest for racial diversity, Harvard acknowledged that it sometimes “favours” academically qualified applicants from less represented backgrounds, such as African-Americans and Latinos, in a positive way that helps them gain admission.

“Students for Fair Admissions opposes the consideration of race in admissions decisions. The group filed a lawsuit against Harvard University in 2014 with the intent of stopping what it said was illegal discrimination.

The case went to trial in late 2018. The plaintiffs accused Harvard University of engaging in unlawful “racial balancing” in the admission of undergraduate students, overemphasizing racial factors in admissions decisions and neglecting to consider “race neutrality”, among other things. The group also accused Harvard of discriminating against Asian-Americans to the benefit of students of other ethnicities seeking admission to the world’s most competitive universities.

Federal Judge Allison Burroughs ruled in favor of Harvard in 2019. The plaintiffs soon appealed.

In her ruling, Judge Sandra Lynch of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals found that Harvard’s consideration of race in its admissions process was consistent with previous Supreme Court rulings on the subject. She wrote, “There was no error.”

“Edward Blum, head of Students for Fair Admissions, said in a statement released Thursday that they were disappointed with the ruling but had not lost hope. He said the decision would be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Many universities have offered support to Harvard University. Harvard denies the plaintiffs’ allegations against the university that it has erred in admissions, saying it has always followed the Supreme Court’s ruling on allowing consideration of race within certain limits.

The Supreme Court had upheld limited consideration of racial factors when it ruled in 2016 on a lawsuit over the consideration of race in the admissions process at the University of Texas at Austin.

On Oct. 8 of this year, the Justice Department filed a similar lawsuit against Yale University for discriminating against Asian and white students. Yale denied discriminating against applicants of any race and said it would not change its admissions policy because of what it called an “unfounded” lawsuit.

“Students for Fair Admissions also filed a similar lawsuit against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The case began a non-jury trial on Monday.