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Bacow ‘Hopeful’ Biden DOJ Will Back Harvard if Admissions Suit Reaches Supreme Court

University President Lawrence S. Bacow is optimistic that the Department of Justice under President Joe Biden will support Harvard's race-conscious admissions practices, he said in a Wednesday interview.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow is optimistic that the Department of Justice under President Joe Biden will support Harvard's race-conscious admissions practices, he said in a Wednesday interview. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Jasper G. Goodman and Kelsey J. Griffin, Crimson Staff Writers

University President Lawrence S. Bacow said in an interview Wednesday he is “hopeful” the Department of Justice will side with Harvard should the Supreme Court take up a lawsuit brought against the University by the anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions.

The Justice Department dropped a similar lawsuit accusing Yale University of discriminating against white and Asian American applicants on Feb. 3, a move that Bacow called “a good signal” for Harvard in its admissions lawsuit.

“I was pleased when the Justice Department dropped the Yale lawsuit, and I would certainly hope that they would support our position on affirmative action should the case go to the Supreme Court,” Bacow said.

Legal experts expect the DOJ under President Joe Biden to pull its support for SFFA’s lawsuit, which would mark a reversal of its Trump-era support for challenges to affirmative action.

“Based upon the kinds of statements the president has made in his prior life and the immediate action in dropping the Yale lawsuit, I’m hopeful,” Bacow said.

It remains unclear whether the Supreme Court will accept the case once SFFA appeals a Nov. 12 ruling by the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the legality of Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policies. The appeal is expected in the coming weeks.

Bacow said it “remains to be seen” how much of an impact the Justice Department’s support would have if the case were to reach the Supreme Court.

“It certainly can’t hurt,” he said.

Biden’s nominee for Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, Kristen M. Clarke ’97 — who would oversee the DOJ’s position on cases related to discrimination — is one of at least 63 Harvard affiliates joining the new administration’s ranks.

“Certainly there are many people in the Biden administration who are well-known to the institution, and we look forward to working with them,” Bacow said.

The Justice Department's reversal in the Yale suit comes following four years of conflict between Harvard and the federal government over issues including affirmative action and immigration.

Bacow wrote a letter to Biden in December calling on him to “act without delay” to support visa leniency for international students. He said Wednesday that he appreciates the steps the new administration has taken so far, and acknowledged “they are limited in terms of how quickly they can act” while many appointees await approval from the Senate.

Currently, only previously-enrolled international students can stay in the United States while taking fully-online courses.

“We’re grateful for the efforts of the administration in that they have understood the challenges that institutions like ours face, and they are taking steps certainly in the right direction from our perspective,” Bacow said.

—Staff writer Kelsey J. Griffin can be reached at kelsey.griffin@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @kelseyjgriffin.

—Staff writer Jasper G. Goodman can be reached at jasper.goodman@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jasper_Goodman

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