Lawyers representing a pro-affirmative action group of current and prospective Harvard students argued against a court’s rejection of the group’s motion to intervene in an ongoing lawsuit against the College last week.
The group, which comprises nine prospective students intending to apply to Harvard and five current students at the College, filed a motion last April to intervene in the lawsuit accusing Harvard of employing race-based discrimination in its admissions processes. In its initial filing, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice—the pro bono legal group representing the students—characterizes the students as sharing “present or prospective interests in living and studying in a racially diverse environment.”
Judge Allison D. Burroughs denied the request in June, writing that that students lacked “a significantly protectable interest” in the case. She granted them amicus status, and the group subsequently filed an appeal.
Attorney Taylor M. Owings ’08 represented the students in the appeal hearing at Boston’s First Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, arguing that “the rule allowing interested parties to intervene in a lawsuit was designed exactly for this purpose,” she said afterward.
“The underrepresented minority students applying to Harvard and studying among the diverse student body there are the people who really stand to lose” in the lawsuit, Owings wrote in an email. “We think the district court made reversible legal errors in deciding otherwise.”
The Thursday hearing is the latest development in the lawsuit accusing the College of setting “target percentages” for underrepresented minorities and illegal quotas on students of Asian descent in its undergraduate admissions processes. Filed last November, the lawsuit has been put on hold pending the affirmation action case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin’s return to the U.S. Supreme Court this December. Parties are currently awaiting word on the terms governing the Harvard case’s discovery period.
In its initial motion, the Lawyers’ Committee argued that Harvard’s consideration of legacy status, standardized test scores, and early action applications had an adverse effect on minority applicants, preventing the College from adequately speaking on behalf of the intervening students. The filing also suggested that Harvard may be reluctant to “expose its own history of past discrimination or to address ongoing problems with race relations or dissatisfaction with racial diversity on the campus.”
Neither Harvard nor Students for Fair Admissions—the anti-affirmative action group that is suing Harvard—supported the students’ proposal to intervene in the lawsuit.
Former U.S. Solicitor General and Harvard Overseers president Seth P. Waxman ’73, writing on behalf of Harvard in a response to the motion, wrote that the University would “adequately represent” the students and recommended that Burroughs assign the group amicus status instead.
At the hearing Thursday, according to Owings, Waxman reiterated Harvard’s claim that the prospective intervenors and the College have the same interest in the lawsuit and said the College would not settle with the plaintiffs. Patrick N. Strawbridge, representing Students for Fair Admissions, agreed with Waxman that Burroughs’ ruling should stand, Owings said.
The appellate court’s ruling on the appeal is forthcoming, although Owings said the case has been expedited and a decision may arrive sooner than typical. According to Owings, the intervening group is awaiting the verdict and currently has no future court appearances scheduled.
—Staff writer Daphne C. Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @daphnectho.
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