A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that Harvard’s admissions process did not violate civil rights law, supporting a lower court ruling that dismissed claims the college discriminated against Asian Americans by subjecting them to a higher standard than other applicants.
The plaintiffs pledged to take the case to the Supreme Court, where a strong 6-3 conservative majority should be open to reconsidering 40 years of precedent that has allowed universities to engage in affirmative action.
“Our hope is not lost,” said Edward Blum, president of Students for Fair Admissions, a conservative legal action group representing a number of Asian and American students who brought the case to the table after been rejected by Harvard. “This lawsuit is now on track to go to the United States Supreme Court, where we will call on the judges to end these unfair and unconstitutional race-based admissions policies at Harvard and all colleges and universities .
The case is one of several offensive affirmative actions that are expected to move forward in court even after the departure of the Trump administration, which has supported efforts to end race-based admission policies. They include lawsuits brought by Mr. Blum’s group against the University of North Carolina and the University of Texas.
In the Harvard case, plaintiffs argued before a federal judge in 2018 that a statistical analysis of more than 160,000 student records showed that the admissions office assessed high performing Asian-American applicants in terms of human traits. personality such as sympathy and kindness. The marks amounted to a sanction against the applicants, who scored higher than any other racial or ethnic group on measures such as test scores, grades and extracurricular activities, the plaintiffs argued.
Harvard retaliated with an expert witness who said the complainants’ statistical model was flawed and argued that its admissions process considered many intangibles, such as the personal stories and particular talents of applicants, and could not be reduced to a few variables.
Getting into Harvard is a challenge for almost everyone. The university admitted only 4.6% of applicants in 2018, the year of the trial in a lower court. An examination of its inner workings in court revealed how the school provides benefits to many groups of applicants, including recruited athletes, heirs (the children of Harvard graduates), and the children of wealthy donors, prominent figures. and university employees.
Testimony also revealed that Harvard valued certain personal characteristics of candidates, such as “effervescence, charity, maturity and strength of character.”
But the district court ruled that Harvard’s admissions practices did not constitute intentional discrimination, a ruling that was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Massachusetts First Circuit on Thursday.
Although various statistical models showed that Asian-American students had a slightly lower chance of being accepted to Harvard than white students of similar qualification, the margin was negligible, the appeals court said. He also rejected the plaintiffs’ argument during the trial that the Harvard admissions office had been affected by “implicit bias” or unconscious racial stereotypes.
“There was a lot of non-statistical evidence to suggest that Harvard admissions officers did not engage in any racial stereotypes,” the court said in a 104-page decision.
Derek W. Black, professor of constitutional law at the University of South Carolina, said it was clear the appeals court understood the national ramifications of the case and the likelihood of it ending up in the Supreme Court.
“In an extremely methodical and cautious decision,” he said, the court “cut all the rhetoric of those attacking Harvard’s affirmative action plan to find that there isn’t any there- low. Harvard, in short, ran its admissions by the book.
In a statement, Harvard welcomed the decision and said its admissions policies were in line with the Supreme Court precedent.
“Consideration of race, along with many other factors, helps us achieve our goal of creating a student body that enriches every student’s education,” said Lawrence S. Bacow, president of Harvard. “Diversity is also a path to excellence for both Harvard and the nation. We will continue to defend these principles and our admissions process up to the Supreme Court, if necessary.