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Court Rejects Group’s Motion to Intervene in Admissions Lawsuit

Harvard acceptance letters are sealed by members of the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid prior to being mailed off.
Harvard acceptance letters are sealed by members of the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid prior to being mailed off.
By Daphne C. Thompson, Crimson Staff Writer

A panel of judges denied a pro-affirmative action group’s motion to intervene in an ongoing lawsuit against the College Wednesday, ruling that Harvard’s lawyers would adequately represent the group’s interests in court. The judges instead granted the students amicus status in the case, allowing them to submit briefs and participate in oral arguments. Lawyers representing the group could not be reached for comment.

The group, which comprises nine prospective and four current students at the College, as well as one alumnus, filed a motion last April to intervene in the lawsuit accusing Harvard of employing race-based discrimination in its admissions processes. In its initial motion, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice—the pro bono legal group representing the students—wrote that the students could offer personal testimonies to the value of diversity that Harvard, as an institution concerned with its reputation, could not.

In Wednesday’s ruling, however, the circuit court judges wrote that the group’s claims of inadequate representation by the College “buckle at the outset.” Because both the student group and Harvard have an interest in maintaining current affirmative action practices, they wrote, the groups have a “congruence in goals” that would nullify the need for an intervention.

The ruling is the latest development in the lawsuit accusing the College of setting quotas on Asian applicants and target percentages for underrepresented minorities in its undergraduate admissions process. Filed in November 2014, the lawsuit has been put on hold pending the outcome of the affirmation action case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, currently under re-consideration at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Lawyers’ Committee began gathering input for its motion to intervene from students in an off-the-record meeting earlier this year in April. Neither Harvard nor Students for Fair Admissions, the anti-affirmative action group suing the College, supported the motion when it was filed.

In their ruling, the judges upheld Harvard’s and SFFA’s objections. Quoting a September speech by University President Drew G. Faust, the judges added that Harvard has “publicly characterized the lawsuit through its highest officials as a threat to its ‘most fundamental values.’”

In its motion to intervene, the pro-affirmative action group argued that they differed from the College in that they did not have to defend the College’s consideration of legacy status in admissions, which may negatively impact minority students. Were the group to criticize Harvard’s legacy preferencing in court, the judges wrote, the intervention “would seem more likely to hinder rather than to help the pursuit of the very goal they share with Harvard.”

Edward Blum, the anti-affirmative action advocate spearheading both the lawsuit against Harvard and Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, said he was unsurprised by the ruling.

“It was widely anticipated by most observers that the First Cir[cuit] would rule against the intervenors,” he wrote in an email.

—Staff writer Daphne C. Thompson can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @daphnectho.

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