Students File Brief Defending Harvard’s Affirmative Action Policies

A group of current and prospective Harvard College students have filed an amicus brief in support of Harvard’s race-conscious affirmative action policies in an ongoing lawsuit between Harvard and anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, which is representing the group of current and prospective students, filed the brief last Wednesday in response to two motions Harvard filed in late September—one to dismiss two counts of the lawsuit and another to dismiss the lawsuit entirely.

The lawsuit began in 2014 after SFFA filed a complaint alleging Harvard’s affirmative action admissions policies disadvantage Asian American applicants. The group also alleges Harvard uses “racial quotas” and “racial balancing” in its policies. Harvard faculty and administrators, including University President Drew G. Faust, have staunchly defended the University’s race-conscious admissions policies.

Matthew M. Cregor, one of the attorneys in the Lawyers’ Committee, said the legal group is working with the law firm of Arnold & Porter and the organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice to represent current and prospective students “who believe that Harvard should be allowed to conduct race-conscious admissions for the benefit of its student body.”

The 10-page brief argues the court should rule in favor of Harvard’s motion to dismiss two counts of the lawsuit because they contradict previous Supreme Court cases, including the recent Fisher vs. University of Texas at Austin case, that have established the use of race-conscious admissions policies as constitutional.

Cregor said, “Our Supreme Court has only made clearer since the lawsuit has been filed that our colleges and universities are allowed to use race-conscious admissions to pursue a diverse campus.”

The Lawyers’ Committee first sought to intervene in the lawsuit last May, but the case’s presiding judge rejected the motion. The group received amicus status instead, allowing the group to submit briefs and participate in oral arguments at different points in the case.

“At any critical stage in the litigation, such as this one, we hope to weigh in in support of those students who value racial diversity at Harvard and the University’s ability to foster it,” Cregor said.

Meanwhile, the plaintiff in the case, Students for Fair Admissions, filed two memos over the weekend opposing Harvard’s motions to dismiss. In the memos, SFFA’s legal counsel argues Harvard has not followed rules of procedure by filing the dispositive motions ahead of the court’s schedule.

SFFA also claims that the two counts in contention are still relevant and could be supported by possible information uncovered in the process of discovery.

The court previously ordered Harvard to produce six cycles of admissions data in discovery, including applicant files from the 2009-2010 admissions cycle through to the 2014-2015 cycle. Harvard informed students of the use of their application information in an email sent on Oct. 13.

In a letter to the court, Felicia H. Ellsworth, one of the lawyers representing Harvard, wrote that a “number of applicants, students, and alumni” have objected to the the use of their application information, and the University has directed them to contact the court directly.

Spokespeople for Harvard’s Admissions Office and SFFA declined to comment on case developments.

—Staff writer Brittany N. Ellis can be reached at brittany.ellis@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @britt_ellis10.

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