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In late February, Students for Fair Admissions pointedly reopened a closed case. After filing suit against Harvard in 2014, the anti-affirmative action group suffered decisive losses in both the Massachusetts District Court and the First Circuit Court when arguing that Harvard’s race-conscious admissions system violates the Civil Rights Act. Now, SFFA President Edward J. Blum is striving to reignite these efforts by working to push SFFA’s case into the Supreme Court docket, with the explicit intent of overturning Grutter v. Bollinger — a landmark Supreme Court case sanctioning affirmative action.
Beyond his involvement with SFFA, Blum has long been known for his interest in lawsuits that grapple with questions of minority protections. After losing a congressional race to a Black Democrat in the 1990s, Blum challenged the Texas redistricting process in Bush v. Vera, which ultimately led the state to redraw its congressional districts. In Shelby County v. Holder, Blum successfully petitioned to strike down a section of the Voting Rights Act that provided for preclearance: a form of federal review that actively increased minority turnout and sought to improve minority representation in Congress. And in Fisher v. University of Texas, Blum argued that the University of Texas’s race-conscious admissions policies were unconstitutional. It is within this context that we must work to understand SFFA’s aims — with its recent petition simply serving as the latest iteration of Blum’s ongoing efforts to undermine minority protections nationwide.
What is perhaps most pernicious about this lawsuit is SFFA’s exploitation of the genuine racism that Asian Americans endure. During their initial court proceedings, SFFA’s contracted economist found that Asian American applicants were consistently rated lower than other racial groups on their personality during the Harvard admissions process. While SFFA leveraged this evidence as proof that Harvard penalized Asian American applicants based on race, Harvard instead claimed that these ratings reflected Asian students’ less supportive recommendation letters from counselors and teachers — a key input to the personality score. In either case, such findings are reflective of deeply rooted, racially biased societal norms and attitudes, ones that permeate students’ lived realities far before their applications are ever reviewed by Harvard admissions. And yet, somehow, SFFA believes that the answer to such troubles, clearly based in racism, lies not in actively combatting their sordid roots, but instead in removing race from the admissions picture entirely.
It is through this disjointedness that SFFA’s motivations become fundamentally clear: The group has pinpointed real issues of Asian American discrimination out of self-interest, not care — leveraging societal injustices to pursue their own interests while doing nothing to address their most damaging origins.
We also take particular offense to Blum’s tacit insinuation that Harvard’s Black, Latinx, and Native American students are in some way less deserving of their place at Harvard than their white and Asian peers. At the most basic level, students are admitted to the College based on the belief that they will grace Harvard’s intellectual community and thrive within it — and no student deserves to be denied that confidence and promise. Beyond that, systemic racism has dampened minority group access to everything from educational access to vocational opportunities. The race-conscious nature of Harvard admissions simply seeks to recognize these realities — and even still, it does not even begin to alleviate them.
If Blum were actually concerned about discrimination against Asian American applicants, he would argue for a more expansive form of affirmative action — one that evaluates Asian American applicants on new measures, or demands that their personal ratings be calculated differently. Instead, Blum’s race-neutral alternatives to Harvard’s admissions process almost guarantee that Black and Latinx groups will see drops in representation to the tune of more than 1,000 fewer students after four years.
Blum has made a career out of arm twisting judges into eroding the rights of African Americans under the premise that racism has no bearing on the workings of modern institutions. But the justices on the Supreme Court must not allow SFFA to add affirmative action to the list of civil rights laws slashed in an effort to trivialize the omnipresence of racism in American society. Instead, for the sake of truly fair admissions, students’ most fundamental civil protections must be preserved.
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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