First Circuit Upholds Harvard’s Race-Conscious Admissions Policy

The court found that the university’s admissions policy, which took race and diversity into consideration, was not illegal.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that Harvard University’s race-conscious admission processes did not violate civil rights law.

The two-judge panel found that the district court was correct in ruling that Harvard’s consideration of race in its admissions processes in order to achieve diversity did not violate Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights act and did not intentionally discriminate against Asian American applicants.

In her opinion, Judge Lynch cited the 2015 high court ruling in Fisher v University of Texas that Harvard had an “ongoing obligation to engage in constant deliberation and continued reflection regarding its admissions policies”, and noted that the issue in question was whether or not its “limited” use of race to achieve diversity in its admissions process was consistent with the requirements of Supreme Court precedent.

“There was no error,” she wrote.

The group Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) appealed the case to the First Court, arguing that the district court was unable to determine that Harvard’s admissions process treated Asian American applicants fairly. The group focused on Harvard’s use of a “personal rating” in admissions decisions, which it claimed rated Asian American applicants lower than their peers.

The SFFA’s suit was backed by the Trump administration, which claimed in oral arguments that Asian American prospective students were “unduly burdened by the expansive and pervasive use of race by Harvard.”

In a statement, SFFA President Edward Blum vowed to appeal the case to the US Supreme Court. If the case is taken up, the Supreme Court’s ruling could have the potential to ban affirmative action policies.

Harvard spokesperson Rachel Dane welcomed the First Circuit’s ruling in an emailed statement.

“Today’s decision once again finds that Harvard’s admissions policies are consistent with Supreme Court precedent, and lawfully and appropriately pursue Harvard’s efforts to create a diverse campus that promotes learning and encourages mutual respect and understanding in our community,” she wrote.

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