Supporters of race-conscious college admissions enjoyed a victory Tuesday when federal Judge Allison D. Burroughs ruled in favor of Harvard University in a highly publicized lawsuit filed by anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA).
Burroughs stated in the ruling that “race has no specified value” and “is never viewed as a negative attribute,” in Harvard’s admissions decisions, denying SFFA’s claims of bias against Asian American applicants.
SFFA’s founder and president Edward Blum stated in a press release that the organization will appeal the decision “to the First Court of Appeals and, if necessary, to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
The announcement is not surprising, as both plaintiff and defendant previously stated they would appeal a ruling not in their favor. Many in higher education, however, worry that SFFA winning the case before the Supreme Court could restrict or even eradicate the right to consider an applicant’s race and ethnicity in admissions decisions.
A longtime opponent of affirmative action, Blum pursued a similar lawsuit as the primary backer of plaintiff Abigail Fisher in the landmark 2016 Fisher v. University of Texas case. The Supreme Court upheld the university’s right to use race-conscious admissions in that suit, but the current, Republican-dominated Supreme Court may be more likely to side with those who claim such policies are unconstitutional.
The Justice Department expressed its support of SFFA in summer 2018 when it filed a statement of interest in the Harvard case. The Trump administration has also vowed to investigate colleges it suspects of using unfair affirmative action policies.
What distinguishes the Harvard case against previous challenges to affirmative action is the fact that the school is accused of bias against an ethnic minority group, rather than bias against White applicants. SFFA’s attorneys had stated in court that their goal was not to challenge the university’s right to select a diverse student body but that such diversity could be achieved using need-based admissions.
In her ruling, Burroughs rejected the claim that admissions policies based on socioeconomic need are effective in creating ethnic and racial diversity.