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SFFA Asks Supreme Court to Overturn Precedents Upholding Affirmative Action in Filing for Harvard, UNC Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to take up a challenge to Harvard College's race-conscious admissions process in the fall.
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to take up a challenge to Harvard College's race-conscious admissions process in the fall. By Caroline S. Engelmayer
By Rahem D. Hamid and Nia L. Orakwue, Crimson Staff Writers

The group suing Harvard and the University of North Carolina over their race-conscious admissions practices asked the United States Supreme Court to ban affirmative action in American higher education in a brief filed Monday, calling on justices to overturn precedents that allow universities to consider race as a factor in admissions.

The court agreed in January to take up a pair of lawsuits filed by the anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions that claim Harvard College and the University of North Carolina discriminate against Asian American applicants. SFFA’s Monday brief is the first major filing since the court announced it would take up the cases.

In the 99-page filing, SFFA called on justices to overturn Grutter v. Bollinger, the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision that said the University of Michigan Law School could consider race as a factor in its admission process.

“Grutter should be overruled, as it satisfies every factor that this Court considers when deciding to overrule precedent,” the filing said. “It was wrong the day it was decided, has spawned significant negative consequences, and has generated no legitimate reliance interests.”

SFFA first sued Harvard in 2014, alleging that the College’s race-conscious admissions process violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits institutions that receive federal funds from discriminating “on the grounds of race, color, or national origin.” Two lower courts previously ruled in Harvard’s favor before SFFA appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which agreed to take up the lawsuit alongside a similar one against UNC.

Harvard and UNC are required to submit response briefs by July 25. Amicus briefs in support of SFFA must be filed by May 9.

In its brief, SFFA argued that Grutter “flouts basic equal-protection principles” set by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. But it said the schools violate current federal law regardless of the 2003 ruling.

Harvard “penalizes Asian Americans, engages in racial balancing, overemphasizes race, and rejects workable race-neutral alternatives,” the filing said.

SFFA argued that Harvard discriminates against Asian American applicants with its “personal rating” scores that are assigned to every applicant.

“Harvard’s mistreatment of Asian-American applicants is particularly striking: Its admissions process penalizes them for supposedly lacking as much leadership, confidence, likability, or kindness as white applicants,” the brief said.

Harvard denies the claims, noting on its website that the percentage of Asian Americans in its admitted class has grown by more than 25 percent since 2010.

In an emailed statement, Harvard College spokesperson Rachael Dane defended the school’s admissions process.

“More than 40 years of Supreme Court precedent have held that race can be one of many factors considered in college admissions,” she wrote.

SFFA wrote that Harvard engages in “racial balancing” and that the school “does not use race as a mere plus to achieve overall diversity.”

“At Harvard, race matters more than every other diversity factor and all but the most elusive academic and extracurricular factors,” the brief said.

Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow wrote in a statement after the court took up the case that “considering race as one factor among many in admissions decisions produces a more diverse student body which strengthens the learning environment for all.”

Dane wrote that “Harvard will continue to vigorously defend its admissions practices.”

“In an increasingly diverse workplace and world, colleges must have the ability to create diverse learning communities needed to prepare students to succeed,” she wrote.

In a press release Monday afternoon, SFFA’s president, Edward J. Blum, wrote that the Harvard and UNC cases “are rescue missions for the colorblind legal principles that hold together Americans of all races and ethnicities.”

—Staff writer Rahem D. Hamid can be reached at

—Staff writer Nia L. Orakwue can be reached at

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