ACE, 40 Associations Support Harvard’s Diversity in Admissions Policy in Appeals Court Brief
May 22, 2020

ACE and 40 other associations submitted an amicus brief yesterday in support of Harvard’s “holistic” admissions process and its consideration of race and ethnicity when reviewing applications for undergraduate admission.

The trial court’s decision in Harvard’s favor in the high-profile case Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. Harvard is currently on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit. The associations are asking the appeals court not to “upset decades of Supreme Court precedent that has approved of holistic and individualized admissions processes” in overturning the lower court’s decision.

The U.S. District Court in Massachusetts ruled last October that Harvard does not discriminate against Asian American applicants, reaffirming the importance of race-conscious admissions in helping construct diverse campuses. While Judge Alison Burroughs wrote that the Harvard admissions process was not perfect, she said that “the court will not dismantle a very fine admissions program that passes constitutional muster, solely because it could do better.”

Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) immediately appealed the decision.  Briefing by the parties, as well as by amici supporting the parties, will be completed in early June.

SFFA alleged in its complaint, first filed in 2014, that Harvard discriminates against Asian American students in its admissions processes. Edward Blum, SFFA’s president, is the architect and driving force behind this lawsuit, and other cases challenging race-conscious admissions practices at colleges and universities, including the unsuccessful attempt in Fisher v. University of Texas to eliminate the use of race as one of many factors in admissions. Blum created SFFA, an organization that purports to work on behalf of Asian-Americans.

ACE President Ted Mitchell said in a statement at the time of the district court ruling that it “unambiguously respects more than four decades of U.S. Supreme Court precedent. Finding that 'Harvard's interest in student body diversity is substantial and compelling,' the court emphasized that the university has followed the high court's standard that race and ethnicity can be considered within a narrowly tailored framework as one factor in a holistic admissions review."

Mitchell noted that the ruling was “especially gratifying because it occurs against a backdrop of continuing attacks on what remains the settled law of the land in this area."

ACE’s amicus brief emphasizes that diversity, including racial diversity, advances learning, enriches campus environments, and prepares students to thrive in an increasingly diverse workforce and society. It also underscores that the Supreme Court permits colleges and universities to pursue the version of diversity that best suits their mission and goals, including the limited consideration of race.

The court’s most recent ruling on the issue came in 2016, in Fisher II v. the University of Texas at Austin. This decision reaffirmed the constitutionality of considering race as one factor in a holistic admissions review and underscored the autonomy U.S. colleges and universities have to define the intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to each institution's identity and educational mission.

The Harvard case may ultimately reach the Supreme Court, putting the issue of race-conscious admissions back in front of the justices for the fifth time since 1978, and before a court that has added Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh since it last took up the issue of diversity in college admissions.

For more background and ACE’s work on the case, click here.

​Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. Harvard University

Details on the case first filed in 2014.

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​Diversity in Admissions

Achieving equitable access to college for communities of color has been a critical goal for higher education since the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Higher Education Act in 1965. Read about ACE's work on the issue.

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