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Students for Fair Admissions Files Notice of Appeal in Harvard Admissions Case

Ed Blum Autumn

UPDATED: Oct. 5, 2019 at 4:36 p.m.

Students for Fair Admissions filed a notice of appeal to the United States First Circuit Court of Appeals Friday afternoon in its longtime suit against Harvard alleging that the College’s admissions process unlawfully discriminates against Asian American applicants.

A notice of appeal instructs the lower court to “assemble the record” of case materials amassed throughout the trial and send a “notice of assembly” to the Appeals Court.

The notice comes just three days after judge Allison D. Burroughs ruled in favor of Harvard in federal district court Tuesday. She cleared the University of all four counts of alleged wrongdoing — including intentional discrimination against Asian Americans and inadequate exploration of race-neutral alternatives — and affirmed the value of diversity in higher education under Supreme Court precedent.

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The high-profile lawsuit has attracted national media attention since SFFA filed its complaint in 2014. Experts have speculated that the case could eventually go to the Supreme Court and decide the fate of affirmative action policies at private colleges and universities nationwide. The additional litigation could take years.

SFFA President Edward J. Blum wrote in an emailed statement that the organization is “looking forward” to the appeals process.

“Students for Fair Admissions looks forward to making our appeal to the US First Circuit Court of Appeals and, if necessary, to the US Supreme Court,” Blum wrote.

William F. Lee ’72 — the lead trial lawyer for Harvard and the senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body — said that Harvard will “vigorously” defend Burrough’s decision.

“The Court’s ruling that Harvard does not discriminate on the basis of race in its admissions process, and that Harvard’s pursuit of the diverse student body central to its educational mission is lawful, was very gratifying and provides a clear path forward to resolve this important case,” Lee said in a statement Friday. “Harvard will vigorously defend the Court’s decision in this case.”

Though Burroughs ruled in Harvard's favor, she wrote in her decision that the College could take additional steps to ensure its admissions process is fair. She suggested providing admissions officers implicit bias training, maintaining clear guidelines on the use of race in the admissions process, and monitoring race-related statistical disparities

The lawsuit has already given outsiders a glimpse into the College's famously secretive admissions process. During the high-profile, three-week trial last October, top administrators, expert witnesses, and current students testified about the College’s admissions policies and its diverse student population.

In the months leading up to the trial, thousands of pages of documents — including internal communications, depositions, and admissions scoring criteria — also became public, placing Harvard under further scrutiny.

Havard still faces a separate investigation by the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division into the College's admissions policies. The DOJ opened its investigation at least as early as 2017 and filed a statement of interest in the SFFA lawsuit in August 2018 alleging that Harvard practices “unlawful racial discrimination” against Asian American applicants.

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

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