Attorney Speaks On Harvard Amicus Brief

Paul R. Q. Wolfson ’82, an attorney Harvard retained to defend affirmative action in higher education, outlined the dramatic stakes in the United States Supreme Court’s upcoming consideration of race-based affirmative action in a Thursday conference call with reporters.

This public statement follows Harvard’s reaffirmation in August of its long-time support for the consideration of race in college admissions. The University submitted an amicus brief to the Court defending the University of Texas’s admissions policies. The policies, which allow Texas’ admissions officers to consider race, are currently being challenged in the case of Fisher v. Texas.

“The stakes are very high,” Wolfson said. “It’s very important to the universities and to all the people that depend on them to maintain the ability to structure an incoming class and a student body that is as excellent and diverse as possible.”

The conference call marked a rare occasion in which an attorney retained by Harvard commented on the University’s legal strategy in a live interview. Harvard’s Office of the General Counsel has not granted interviews to The Crimson regarding these strategies in recent years.

Other participants on Thursday’s call largely avoided speculation on the justices’ potential views, opting instead to highlight the benefits of affirmative action and the potential negative outcomes that could arise from striking down the policy.

“If [Fisher] were to prevail, we could live in a very strange world in Texas and perhaps beyond where everything but race could be considered,” said Debo P. Adegbile, acting president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “Some applicants would need to censor core aspects of their identity, express their identity in ways that don’t ring true with their experiences, or, failing that, have college admissions officers censor their personal stories for them.”

Wolfson, alongside former United States Solicitor General Seth P. Waxman ’73 and attorney Kelly P. Dunbar, authored the brief on behalf of Harvard and 13 peer institutions. The brief defends the consideration of race and ethnicity in admissions as “single factors among many”—a standard established by Harvard and affirmed by the Court as the optimal use of race in the college admissions process.

“Diversity encourages students to question their assumptions, to understand that wisdom and contributions to society may be found where not expected, and to gain an appreciation of the complexity of the modern world,” the brief reads.

The brief relies largely on constitutional precedent established by the Court’s decisions in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke in 1978 and Grutter v. Bollinger in 2003. In both those cases, the justices affirmed the legality of race as an admissions consideration.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Fisher next week and is expected to issue a ruling in the spring.

—Staff writer Justin C. Worland can reached at jworland@college.harvard.edu.

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