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Editorials

Affirmative Action, Affirmed — For Now

Admissions Office
The Harvard College Admissions Office is housed in Radcliffe Yard.

In a 130-page opinion, federal judge Allison D. Burroughs brought to a conclusion the current — and we need to emphasize that word in particular — chapter of Harvard’s fight with Students for Fair Admissions, the anti-affirmative action group that brought the case in 2014, over whether or not the College’s race-conscious admissions policies illegally discriminate against Asian American applicants. Burroughs ruled in favor of Harvard on all counts, holding that the University’s processes are necessary to ensure diversity while not crossing a line into unconstitutional racial discrimination.

We are glad that Harvard has won this round of litigation, but we recognize that there remains a long road ahead. We hold very dear a diverse set of values that theoretically underpin Harvard’s contested admissions practices. We believe in racial equality. We believe in merit. We believe in a diverse campus. But we understand that in practice these beliefs are sometimes in tension with one another, and that even after Burroughs’ decision, protecting these values and the system that — however imperfectly — sustains them is both a difficult balancing act and likely a continued legal one.

Alongside many of our peers we send our appreciation to Burroughs for recognizing the difficulty and nuance of the issue at hand — its long term consequences, complicated history, and challenging factors of implementation. In particular, the judgement’s reinforcement of affirmative action is deeply relieving. We have long supported affirmative action as a necessary component of Harvard’s admission practices. A victory for SFFA threatens the grounds upon which diversity has and continues to be developed across American higher education.

That said, we cannot rest easy. Not only has SFFA announced its intentions to appeal the decision, but the grounds upon which Burroughs decided the case feel flimsy in the context of the higher court it will be appealed to, given that the case’s ruling applies the standard of strict scrutiny. That criteria — the most stringent standard for judicial review — is difficult bar to reach. As such, we fear the current slate of Supreme Court justices will end affirmative action in light of their past opinions on these related issues.

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While for now this possibility remains speculative, we urge Harvard to hold true to its values. Of course, the admissions remains deeply flawed, but now more than ever the administration and its allies across academia should double down on its betterment and promotion. And while legal judgments tend to read in terms of binary conceptions of possible outcomes — affirmation of Harvard’s admissions practices or strict negation — we urge Harvard and all parties to continue to view the case in as nuanced a way as possible.

In light of the political weight this case has already taken on and will likely continue to gain as it moves through the courts, we implore Harvard students and defenders of affirmative action at large to keep a close eye on this case as it develops. Public pressure in support of affirmative action will be an important strategic component of the effort to demonstrate its vital importance for equity in our society and advocate for its preservation.

Though we are glad the proverbial battle has been won, we are bracing for the ones yet to come.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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