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Students for Fair Admissions Files Appeal Brief in Harvard Admissions Case

Representatives from the Harvard Admissions Office host information sessions and tours for prospective applicants at Agassiz House.
Representatives from the Harvard Admissions Office host information sessions and tours for prospective applicants at Agassiz House. By Steve S. Li
By Benjamin L. Fu and Dohyun Kim, Crimson Staff Writers

Anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions filed its opening appellate brief in federal court Tuesday as part of a longstanding lawsuit pending against Harvard over allegations that the College discriminates against Asian Americans in its admissions process.

SFFA argued throughout its brief that a previous district court ruling against it was incorrect and that the appeals court should reverse the decision. The group’s lawyers argued that the district court failed to apply strict scrutiny and failed to appropriately consider evidence of the alleged discrimination.

SFFA’s filing comes roughly four months after district court judge Allison D. Burroughs issued her final ruling at the conclusion of a five-year-long phase of the lawsuit. Her Oct. 2 ruling rejected SFFA’s arguments that the College’s race-conscious admissions policies are discriminatory toward Asian American applicants.

Three days after Burroughs published her opinion, SFFA filed a notice of appeal in the United States First Circuit Court of Appeals, marking the organization’s intent to challenge Burroughs’s ruling.

SFFA’s Tuesday brief reiterates previous arguments that Harvard penalizes Asian American students in the admissions process, practices “racial balancing” when selecting each incoming class, weights race too heavily in considering students’ applications, and has failed to sufficiently explore alternative race-neutral processes.

Harvard has repeatedly denied allegations that its admissions process is discriminatory, and has argued that it considers race as one factor among many in a “holistic” admissions process.

Harvard spokesperson Rachael Dane defended the College’s inclusion of race as a factor in admissions in an emailed statement Tuesday.

“We will vigorously defend the Court’s decision, which makes clear that Harvard does not discriminate on the basis of race in its admissions process, and that Harvard’s pursuit of a diverse student body is central to its educational mission and consistent with longstanding Supreme Court precedent,” Dane wrote. “Today’s filing by Students for Fair Admissions further exposes their ultimate goal of removing the consideration of race in college and university admissions.”

SFFA president Edward J. Blum wrote an emailed statement that the organization hopes the appeals process will ultimately reverse the district court ruling.

“It is our hope the First Circuit Court of Appeals will reverse the lower court’s erroneous opinion and compel Harvard to end the use of race in their admissions policies,” Blum wrote.

In one of the Tuesday brief’s arguments, SFFA’s lawyers highlighted their belief that the court erred in applying strict scrutiny. Burroughs accepted Harvard’s arguments, despite the fact that, according to SFFA, Harvard failed to prove that it does not discriminate.

“This analysis is irreconcilable with strict scrutiny,” the appellate brief reads. “Given the serious doubts that the district court harbored, Harvard by definition has not ‘offered sufficient evidence that would prove that its admissions program is narrowly tailored to obtain the educational benefits of diversity.’ The case should have ended there.”

SFFA’s lawyers also contested that Burroughs failed to fully appreciate statistical evidence, evidence related to subjective standards for “personal ratings” in admissions, and internal Harvard communications about concerns over possible discrimination.

The brief’s conclusion is straightforward, reading, “The district court’s judgment should be reversed.”

SFFA’s filing marks just the latest move in a protracted legal battle that has brought national attention on to Harvard’s admissions policies. Documents released throughout the case have revealed previously confidential details about the admissions process, such as how the College considers applications from athletes and relatives of major donors.

Harvard is scheduled to issue its reply brief within 30 days. SFFA will then have three weeks to publish another response to Harvard’s brief.

—Staff writer Benjamin L. Fu can be reached at benjamin.fu@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenFu_2.

—Staff writer Dohyun Kim can be reached at dohyun.kim@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @DxhyunKim.

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