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Harvard Makes Final Bid to Avoid Trial in Admissions Lawsuit

The College's admissions office is located on 86 Brattle Street.
The College's admissions office is located on 86 Brattle Street. By Jacqueline S. Chea
By Delano R. Franklin and Samuel W. Zwickel, Contributing Writers

Lawyers for Harvard again argued in a Monday filing that a trial in the approaching admissions lawsuit against the University is not necessary because, they say, the evidence obviously points in their favor.

“Harvard’s admissions practices are entirely consistent with the law and necessary to build the diverse community critical to the success of its students,” the filing reads.

This latest document doubles down on Harvard’s arguments from its June 15 motion for summary judgment — that is, a decision without a trial. The plaintiff in the suit, the anti-affirmative action advocacy group Students for Fair Admissions, also filed its own motion for summary judgment and argued that indisputable facts support its allegations.

SFFA, led by conservative litigant Edward Blum, brought the lawsuit against Harvard in Nov. 2014, alleging the College discriminates against Asian Americans in its admissions process. Harvard has repeatedly denied those charges.

Much of Harvard’s argument Monday rested on the claim that SFFA doesn’t have legal standing to sue the University. The filing asserts the group is a “ litigation vehicle” that has “never been a proper plaintiff.”

Harvard lawyers argued the organization is not a “genuine membership organization” and that none of its individual members have standing to sue the University. It says most members of SFFA are not eligible transfer students, and therefore could not have faced any “redressable injury.”

SFFA calls itself “a nonprofit membership group of more than 20,000 students, parents, and others” in opposition to affirmative action. According to its website, members pay a one-time fee of $10 upon joining and their identities are confidential.

The identities of the students who have testified or provided material as part of the lawsuit are also private.

In the Monday filing, Harvard summarizes evidence ranging from economic analysis to administrators’ depositions in order to reiterate two key points from its original motion for summary judgement: that Harvard neither discriminates against Asian American applicants nor engages in racial balancing of its incoming classes. It contends the College considers race in accordance with Supreme Court precedent and could not accomplish its educational mission without doing so.

SFFA's president Blum wrote in an email that the organization plans to address the school's arguments in an upcoming court submission of its own.

Monday’s filing is the latest development in the summary judgment phase of the lawsuit, which began in June. Hundreds of internal Harvard documents became public as part of that process, revealing scores of tidbits about the College's secretive admissions process including that legacy students have a much higher chance of acceptance and that an internal Harvard review once concluded the school's admissions process produces "negative effects" for Asian Americans.

Experts have said the case will almost certainly go to trial. The outcome of that trial could have significant consequences for the future of affirmative action policies at colleges and universities across the country.

The trial is set to begin on Oct. 15 at the U.S. District Court in Boston.

—Staff writer Delano R. Franklin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @delanofranklin_.

—Staff writer Samuel W. Zwickel can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @samuel_zwickel.

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