Justice Department Sides with Plaintiffs in Affirmative Action Lawsuit Against Harvard

The U.S. Department of Justice has issued a statement of interest arguing in favor of Students for Fair Admissions, the anti-affirmative action group that is suing Harvard University for what it claims is discrimination against Asian American applicants.

According to the statement, the Justice Department believes that Harvard has effectively created racial quotas for Asian American students in order to make room for less qualified applicants of other races and ethnicities. It also argues that one of Harvard’s admissions criteria — known as a “personal rating” — decreases Asian American applicants’ chances for admission because it has a vague definition and may include elements of racial bias.

Under current law, institutions of higher education that practice affirmative action must clearly articulate their diversity-related goals and prove that they cannot meet such goals without using race as a factor in the admissions process. Harvard, Justice Department officials argue, has not made a sufficient case for why it must consider race in its admissions decisions. The department has therefore urged the Federal District Court in Boston to deny the university’s request to dismiss the case before it goes to trial in October.

The ruling in the case will likely have serious implications far beyond any single institution or ethnic group. Many see it as a litmus test for whether conservative politicians will succeed in their decades-long effort to eliminate affirmative action in higher education. Should the case make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh — President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy — could significantly impact the final decision. As a staunch conservative, Kavanaugh is reputed to take a negative stance regarding affirmative action.

Throughout the proceedings, several groups affiliated with Harvard have criticized anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum, who helped coordinate the legal effort, as well as Students for Fair Admissions, who filed the case. In July, a group of Harvard students and alumni filed a brief condemning what they referred to as the plaintiffs’ “attempt to manufacture conflict between racial and ethnic groups in order to … dismantle efforts to create a racially diverse and inclusive student body.” The Harvard Asian American Alumni Alliance has also spoken out against the Trump administration’s decision to side with what it says is a “subversive attempt to say that civil rights protections cause discrimination.”