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In Post-Trial Brief, NAACP Legal Defense Fund Defends Harvard’s Admissions Policy

Harvard Press Conference
Seth P. Waxman '73 and William F. Lee '72 speak to members of the press outside John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse immediately following the conclusion of the three-week-long Harvard admissions trial.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Educational Fund argued that Harvard’s race-conscious admissions process is “necessary to reap the educational benefits of diversity” in a document filed in federal court Wednesday.

The filing — submitted months after a trial in the case wrapped up — marks the latest development in a lawsuit that has lasted years and could determine the fate of affirmative action at private colleges and universities around the country. Plaintiff Students for Fair Admissions originally filed suit against Harvard in 2014, arguing the College’s admissions protocols discriminate against Asian-American applicants.

LDF represents 25 Harvard student and alumni organizations comprising thousands of Asian-American, black, Latinx, Native-American, and white students and alumni as amici curiae — friends of the court — in the lawsuit. The amicus brief offers evidence to support the claim that the College’s race-conscious admissions process safeguards diversity on campus, an argument also made by lawyers representing Harvard during the trial.

The NAACP LDF is one of the scores of third-party organizations to weigh in on the admissions suit. In addition to an amicus brief filed by the LDF in September, filings from 16 of the nation's top schools, the American Civil Liberties Union, and 15 economists and 531 social scientists have backed Harvard’s position. The Department of Justice, five economists, and multiple conservative think tanks including the National Association of Scholars sided with SFFA — as did the Asian American Coalition for Education, which penned a brief in July on behalf of 156 Asian-American organizations.

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LDF’s latest amicus brief brief comes after Harvard College and SFFA each submitted their own findings of fact and conclusions of law — documents summarizing what each side saw as the key takeaways from the trial, held in Boston for three weeks starting in mid-October. Those filings, like the LDF’s, included lawyers’ summaries of both factual discoveries and legal conclusions.

The LDF’s 45 page-long amicus brief argues that no race-neutral alternative to the College’s protocols would achieve sufficient levels of diversity in the College’s student body. It contends that engagement with, and exposure to, students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds are “critical” to achieving the educational benefits of diversity.

The loss of race-conscious admissions would contribute to the “loss of up to fifty percent of the Black and Latinx student body,” according to the amicus brief. LDF lawyers argued this shift in the student body’s makeup would reduce students’ opportunities to engage in “meaningful interactions and dialogue” with diverse peers.

In the amicus brief, lawyers for LDF frequently cited the five current undergraduates who testified in support of Harvard’s admissions process during the trial. Quoting testimony from Cecilia A.J. Nuñez ’20, lawyers argued that diverse classrooms encourage students to “learn from other people, and . . . learn from listening to their stories” — a crucial element, they argue, to avoiding racial isolationism and tokenization.

“The main thing that we want to point out to the judge is the situation that the Supreme Court has told us for 40 years that colleges and universities can lawfully consider race as one of many factors in college admissions in the pursuit of the educational benefits of diversity so long as there are no available and workable alternatives to putting together a diverse student body,” Michaele Turnage Young, senior counsel at the NAACP LDF, said.

The brief argues that SFFA did not provide evidence at trial to counter the argument that a decrease in diversity would harm students’ educational experiences.

SFFA President Edward Blum did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Young said LDF’s lawyers submitted the amicus brief to distill main takeaways from the trial ahead of a final hearing, scheduled for Feb. 13, during which lawyers representing Harvard and SFFA will make post-trial closing arguments about factual findings thus far in the lawsuit and the legal rulings they believe the court should make.

United States Federal District Judge Allison D. Burroughs is expected to issue her decision in the months following this hearing. Legal experts have said they expect that whichever side loses will appeal, and the case could end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

CORRECTION: Jan. 11, 2019

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated LDF is a part of the NAACP. In fact, LDF is a separate organization from the NAACP.

—Staff Writer Camille G. Caldera can be reached at camille.caldera@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.

—Staff Writer Sahar M. Mohammadzadeh can be reached at sahar.mohammadzadeh@thecrimson.com.

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