The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit on Thursday rejected claims from a group representing Asian Americans arguing that Harvard’s affirmative action policy discriminated against them.
Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) brought suit against Harvard in November 2014, challenging the college’s “race-conscious” undergraduate admission process as a violation of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act. The district court found that Harvard’s admission process did not violate Title IV and that SFFA lacked standing to bring their claims. The First Circuit found that SFFA had associational standing, but Harvard’s “race-conscious” admissions program did not violate Title IV.
In her opinion, Judge Sandra Lynch wrote that plaintiffs did not show that Harvard “treated members of one race differently and less favorably than members of another race and that the defendant did so with a racially discriminatory purpose.” In addition, she noted that Harvard’s consideration of race in its admissions program survives strict scrutiny. While Harvard’s use of race must further a compelling interest, the Supreme Court has held that “attaining student diversity may be a compelling interest.” Lynch opined that race is one piece of Harvard’s interest in diversity. It is considered as part of a broader effort to achieve exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints.” Further, Harvard’s use of race was narrowly tailored to achieve its goals.
Supreme Court precedent makes clear that the fact that Harvard’s application process is subjective is insufficient to overcome other evidence in the record that Harvard is nor biased against Asian Americans and does not stereotype them. First, there is no requirement that universities use entirely objective criteria when considering race to admit applicants. Harvard presented testimony from multiple admissions officers that its admission process, though subjective, did not facilitate bias or stereotyping. The nature of Harvard’s admissions process, as the district court recognized, offset any risk of bias. An applicant must secure a majority of votes at a full-body admission committee meeting with forty admissions officers to be admitted to Harvard, which mitigates the risk that any individual officer’s bias or stereotyping would affect Harvard’s admissions process.
An appeal to the US Supreme Court is expected.