President Joe Biden’s administration pressed the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to reject an affirmative action case against Harvard University challenging that institution and others around the country who use race as a factor in admissions in order to increase student diversity.
In June, the high court asked the Biden administration to give its views on the case, Reuters reported, “which could give the court’s 6-3 conservative majority a chance to end affirmative action policies used to increase the number of Black and Hispanic students on American campuses.”
An anti-affirmative action group, Students for Fair Admissions, which was founded by Edward Blum, is appealing a lower court ruling that upheld Harvard’s race-centric admissions policy. The organization is also hoping that the high court will overturn a 2003 ruling that upheld the standard, which the group sees as discriminatory in and of itself.
The organization has accused Harvard of engaging in discriminatory practices against Asian-American applicants using unconstitutional “racial balancing” policies to make it easier for black and Hispanic applicants to be accepted.
However, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar has argued in a brief filed with the high court it would be an “extraordinary step” for justices to reconsider the past rulings, adding that the Harvard case is a “poor vehicle” to consider.
The SFFA lawsuit charges that Harvard’s race-conscious policy is a violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans all forms of racial discrimination in any program that receives federal funding.
But Prelogar noted in her brief that a reconsideration of previous Supreme Court rulings on the issue will disrupt institutions of higher learning that have since come to “rely on the permissibility of a holistic, flexible approach like Harvard’s as a benchmark in structuring their own admissions policies.”
Blum countered in a statement that Prelogar’s brief “regrettably advocates for the continuation of racial classifications and preferences in college admissions,” while going on to urge justices to hear the case as well as another related one involving a lawsuit against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In a separate statement, Harvard praised the Biden administration’s position and voiced support for its policy as a way of creating a more diverse campus.
In late August 2018, the Trump Justice Department filed a brief in federal court in support of SFFA, arguing that Harvard had failed to demonstrate that the university was not engaged in discrimination against Asian-American applicants.
“I can’t believe it’s 2018 and we’re saying that that person deserves to get in over that person solely because they’re of a preferred race,” Ilya Shapiro, a vice president of the Cato Institute and director of the Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies, told NPR at the time.
“No American should be denied admission to school because of their race,” then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions added.
He went on to argue that Harvard’s use of a “personal rating,” which includes very subjective elements like being a “good person” or having “likeability,” is biased against Asian-Americans. He also said Harvard admitted that it gives Asian-Americans lower personal ratings.
“The Supreme Court has called such attempts to ‘racially balance’ the makeup of a student body ‘patently unconstitutional,’” Sessions said in a statement.
The Trump administration also filed suit against Yale University in October 2020 for also using race as an admissions factor, but the Biden Justice Department dropped the suit within a few weeks of the president’s inauguration.
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