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Justice Department Asks Court to Overturn Harvard Admissions Decision in Amicus Brief

The lawsuit alleging Harvard discriminates against Asian-American applicants went to trial in the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse in October 2018.
The lawsuit alleging Harvard discriminates against Asian-American applicants went to trial in the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse in October 2018. By Justin F. Gonzalez
By Benjamin L. Fu and Dohyun Kim, Crimson Staff Writers

The United States Department of Justice asked a federal appeals court Tuesday to overturn the October 2019 case ruling which found that Harvard College does not discriminate against Asian Americans in its admissions process.

Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband filed an amicus brief alongside three other Justice Department officials in support of the plaintiff in the case — anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions — one week after SFFA appealed the ruling.

The Justice Department argued in its brief that a district court judge failed to apply strict scrutiny in determining whether Harvard’s use of race in its admissions process was “narrowly tailored to a compelling interest.” It also defended SFFA’s allegations that Harvard engages in “racial balancing” when admitting students and systematically penalizes Asian American applicants.

The officials also argued that the Department has a vested interest in the case because of its role in combatting discrimination and scrutinizing organizations that receive money from the federal government.

“The United States enforces multiple statutes that prohibit racial discrimination in public accommodations, housing, voting, education, and employment, among other contexts,” the brief reads. “As particularly relevant here, the United States distributes billions of dollars in federal financial assistance every year, and it has a significant interest in ensuring that recipients of such assistance comply with Title VI’s antidiscrimination mandate.”

In an emailed statement, SFFA president Edward J. Blum praised the Justice Department’s intervention in the case.

“Students for Fair Admissions is grateful the U.S. Department of Justice has formally recognized that Harvard’s admissions policies discriminate against Asian-American applicants,” Blum wrote. “DOJ’s amicus brief accurately highlights the emails, depositions, internal studies, data analysis and testimony that SFFA presented to the district court to prove that Harvard’s admissions policies are discriminatory.”

The Justice Department’s brief comes as the latest part of litigation that has been pending against Harvard for several years. SFFA initially filed its lawsuit against Harvard in November 2014. Last October, District court Judge Allison D. Burroughs ruled in Harvard’s favor and found that the College does not discriminate against Asian American applicants.

Economists and several legal organizations also submitted amicus briefs supporting SFFA and opposing the district court ruling. Those groups include Mountain States Legal Foundation, Judicial Watch, and the National Association of Scholars, among others.

The Asian American Coalition for Education and the Asian American Legal Foundation also submitted a brief, which lists the names of nearly 300 Asian American organizations as supporters.

Harvard spokesperson Rachael Dane declined to comment on the amicus briefs.

The brief marks the second time the Justice Department has previously supported SFFA in its lawsuit against Harvard.

Separately, the Department led its own investigation into alleged discrimination in Harvard admissions, which was confirmed as ongoing in December 2019.

Harvard is scheduled to submit its brief in the case by May 14.

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

—Staff writer Dohyun Kim can be reached at

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