BOSTON – Harvard does not discriminate against Asian American applicants, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday in a decision that offers relief to other colleges that consider race in admissions, but also sets the stage for a potential review by an increasingly conservative U.S. Supreme Court.
The decision came from two judges on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston who rejected claims from an anti-affirmative action group that accused the Ivy League University of imposing a “racial penalty” on Asian Americans. The judges upheld a previous ruling clearing Harvard of discrimination when choosing students.
It delivers a blow to the suit's plaintiff, Students for Fair Admissions, a nonprofit that aims to eliminate the use of race in college admissions. In a statement, the group's president, Edward Blum, said he was disappointed but that “our hope is not lost.”
“This lawsuit is now on track to go up to the U.S. Supreme Court where we will ask the justices to end these unfair and unconstitutional race-based admissions policies at Harvard and all colleges and universities,” Blum said.
Both sides have been preparing for a possible review by the Supreme Court, and some legal scholars say the issue is ripe to be revisited.
Filed in 2014, the lawsuit has revived a national debate about race’s role in college admissions. In multiple decisions spanning decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that colleges can consider race as a limited factor in order to promote campus diversity. But the practice faces mounting challenges in the courts, including three suits from Students from Fair Admissions.
Many elite colleges consider applicants' race and give an edge to some underrepresented students to promote diversity on campus. The Trump administration has opposed the practice and backed the lawsuit against Harvard. In October, the Justice Department filed a similar suit accusing Yale University of discriminating against Asian American and white applicants.
In Thursday's decision, however, the judges ruled that Harvard’s admissions process passes legal muster and aligns with requirements that the Supreme Court laid out in previous cases.