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Harvard Files Motion to Dismiss Admissions Lawsuit

The Harvard College Office of Admissions and Financial Aid located at 86 Brattle Street.
The Harvard College Office of Admissions and Financial Aid located at 86 Brattle Street.
By Brittany N. Ellis, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard moved Friday to dismiss an ongoing lawsuit alleging race-based discrimination in its admissions processes, arguing that the plaintiffs in the case—anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions—lack grounds to litigate on behalf of its members.

SFFA first brought the case against Harvard in 2014, claiming that the University uses “racial quotas” and “racial balancing” in its admissions processes, arguing this would disadvantage Asian American applicants. The suit is currently in the “discovery” phase, and earlier this month the presiding judge ordered Harvard to release six cycles of admissions data, including the more than 35,000 applications it has received per year.

The Harvard College Office of Admissions and Financial Aid located at 86 Brattle Street.
The Harvard College Office of Admissions and Financial Aid located at 86 Brattle Street. By Megan M. Ross

Legal counsel for Harvard presented two motions for court review Friday. The first, which calls for the dismissal of the lawsuit entirely, argues that SFFA “cannot demonstrate that its members control the organization and that it genuinely represents them,” therefore leaving SFFA without legal standing to litigate on their behalf.

The other motion asks for the dismissal of two clauses of SFFA’s complaint against the University on grounds that they contradict Supreme Court rulings, including the recent Fisher vs. University of Texas at Austin decision, which upheld race-conscious admissions policies as constitutional.

Legal counsel for Harvard filed several documents in support of the first motion, including the deposition of SFFA Director Edward J. Blum—who, as director of the Project on Fair Representation, helped assemble Fisher’s legal team—and the organization’s 2013 tax exemption request to the Internal Revenue Service.

In a memorandum filed Monday outlining the arguments for dismissal, the University used these documents to argue that SFFA’s members “have no power to influence [the organization’s] conduct, play no meaningful role in funding it, and do not otherwise participate in its activities.”

Harvard cited SFFA’s tax exemption form, in which organization states in its articles of incorporation that “The Corporation shall have no members.”

Harvard has called for the release of details of Students for Fair Admissions membership throughout the discovery process, arguing in a letter in April that the University is “entitled to discovery related to SFFA’s standing.” Responding in another letter, SFFA argued that releasing membership details would infringe on the privacy of its members. The presiding judge has previously denied most of Harvard’s requests for SFFA’s membership information.

SFFA filed a letter Monday in response to Harvard’s motions and memoranda in which it calls the motions “procedurally improper.” In the letter, SFFA asks that the court refrain from judgment on the motions until the end of the discovery process, which is slated for March 2, 2018 according to a court agenda filed at the beginning of the month.

Stetson University law professor Peter F. Lake ’81 said it is common in the litigation process for both sides to point to structural organization as legal grounds for dismissal.

“Very often one of the things that gets resolved or at least argued about early on in the case is, ‘Does the organization have a right to argue the case?’” Lake said.

Despite Harvard’s motions this weekend, the case could continue without a ruling on either motion because the judge does not face a specific time frame.

“Harvard is trying to end the litigation now, and there’s always a chance that could be successful but if it’s not, this could go on for some time,” Lake said. “What is a little interesting, I think, is that it is one of the first litigations in the immediate post-Fisher universe, and so people will be watching.”

Representatives of Students for Fair Admissions and the Harvard Admissions Office declined to comment on the new motions.

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

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