Harvard defeats suit seeking to bar affirmative action
NEW YORK — Harvard University defeated an anti-affirmative action group’s lawsuit to stop the school from using race as a factor in admissions, in a ruling that’s likely to be challenged all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A federal judge on Tuesday said the nation’s oldest college may consider race as one criterion among many in its admissions decisions. The suit, brought in 2014 by Students for Fair Admissions, claimed that Harvard illicitly engaged in “racial balancing” by artificially limiting Asian-Americans’ numbers and favoring African American, Latino and white applicants.
“The court will not dismantle a very fine admissions program that passes constitutional muster, solely because it could do better,” U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs said in a 130-page ruling.
The decision is almost certain to be appealed. For decades, the Supreme Court has upheld affirmative action in student selection, but the high court has grown more conservative in recent years and a new review may look less favorably upon the practice.
SFFA, relying on a statistical analysis, argued that Asian-Americans were less likely to get into Harvard than other minority groups, though they scored higher than other racial and ethnic groups on many objective measures, including test scores, academic achievement and extracurricular activities. The group said that in admissions data from 1995 to 2013, Asian Americans had the lowest acceptance rate of any group, at 8.1%, compared to 10.6% for Hispanic students, 13.2% for African Americans and 11.1% for whites.
The group also said that a 2013 internal report by Harvard’s own Office of Institutional Research showed that Asian Americans would make up 43.4% of the admitted class if they were judged purely on academic merit. They now account for about 23% of the class, and 5.6% of the U.S. population. The university has noted that the percentage of Asian-Americans in the admitted class has grown by 29% in the past decade.
The judge rejected the argument, saying the benefits of diversity “will foster the tolerance, acceptance and understanding that will ultimately make race conscious admissions obsolete.”
Harvard’s admissions process “serves a compelling, permissible and substantial interest,” she added. “Consistent with the hallmarks of a narrowly tailored program, applicants are afforded a holistic, individualized review, diversity is understood to embrace a broad range of qualities and experiences and race is used as a plus factor, in a flexible, non-mechanical way.”