A U.S. appeals court on Thursday upheld Harvard University’s use of race in undergraduate admissions, rejecting a challenge by affirmative action opponents who said the school’s policy discriminates against Asian-Americans.
The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston rejected the claims by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), a nonprofit founded by anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum that gained the support of Republican President Donald Trump’s administration.
SFFA argued that Harvard engaged in impermissible “racial balancing” to benefit other preferred minority groups, such as Blacks and Hispanics, and did not narrowly tailor enough its use of race as a factor.
But U.S. Circuit Judge Sandra Lynch said Harvard’s consideration of race was not “impermissibly extensive” but was instead “meaningful to Harvard’s admissions process because it prevents diversity from plummeting.”
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“Harvard’s race-conscious admissions program ensures that Harvard can retain the benefits of diversity it has already achieved,” she said.
The decision was 2-0. A three-judge panel heard arguments in the case in September. One of its members, U.S. Circuit Judge Juan Torruella, died last month.
The ruling upheld a decision by U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs, who ruled that while Harvard’s admissions program is “not perfect,” it had no “workable and available race-neutral alternatives.”
Harvard had no immediate comment.
Blum in a statement vowed to take the case 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.”
Legal experts have said the case could give the Supreme Court’s conservative majority an opportunity to re-evaluate past decisions that allowed race to be considered as a factor in admissions.
SFFA is pursuing a similar case against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wihch went to trial on Monday.
The Justice Department under Trump in October sued Yale University in a similar case, accusing it of illegally discriminating against Asian and white applicants.