A federal appeals court said Thursday that Harvard University’s limited consideration of race in its admissions practice was a legitimate attempt to gain diversity in the student body and did not violate the constitution.
The ruling, by two judges of the First Circuit Court of Appeals, is a defeat for a group of Asian-Americans who claimed that Harvard discriminated against them. The Trump Justice Department sided with him under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, stating that “Asian Americans face a significant disadvantage in Harvard’s admissions program compared to applicants from other races.”
Three judges of the appeals court heard the case in September, but one of them, Juan Toruela, died last month before the case was decided.
The lawsuit was filed in 2014 and a court battle ensued over how much Harvard was obliged to disclose about the mechanics of its admissions practices. Although it is a private university, it receives millions in federal grants, requiring it to comply with federal civil rights laws that ban discrimination based on race and other factors.
Her case was dismissed by a federal judge, and appeals court judges confirmed her conclusion. Thursday’s ruling stated that Harvard did not engage in racial balance or the use of quotas. The school considered race among other characteristics to achieve student diversity “as part of an overall review process,” it said.
Harvard’s group – the students’ lead for Fair Admission – was led by Edward Blum, a frequent opponent of affirmative action. Behind his efforts were the Supreme Court’s most recent affirmative action decisions that upheld the use of race to achieve diversity in the admissions program at the University of Texas at Austin.
He said he was disappointed in Thursday’s decision but said “we have not lost hope.” He said he would probably appeal the case to the Supreme Court, “where we will ask justification for ending these unfair and unconstitutional caste-based admissions policies at Harvard and all colleges and universities.”
When Anthony Kennedy was in the Supreme Court, he expressed skepticism about affirmative action in college admissions, but was critical of allowing it to continue. The current, more conservative court would probably be less willing to allow it to continue.