Harvard filed an opposition brief Monday urging the United States Supreme Court to reject a petition by anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions, which in February requested the court review a lower court’s decision to uphold Harvard’s race-conscious admissions practices.
“After years of discovery, SFFA produced no persuasive evidence to support its legal claims. The court of appeals found no error in the district court’s meticulous explanation of how it resolved the disputed facts and applied the relevant law,” Harvard’s attorneys wrote in the brief. “SFFA is not entitled to battle out the facts a third time in this Court. And it identifies no unsettled legal issue meriting review.”
SFFA first filed suit against Harvard in 2014, arguing that Harvard’s race-conscious admissions violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans institutions that receive federal funds from discriminating “on the grounds of race, color, or national origin.”
Harvard won the initial trial in October 2019, when a Massachusetts district court judge ruled that Harvard does not discriminate against Asian American applicants. The First Circuit Court affirmed that ruling in November 2020.
The Supreme Court is expected to decide next month whether to take up SFFA’s appeal and hear the case, according to a University press release.
Harvard’s brief rejects all the claims SFFA posed against it, including the arguments that the College discriminates against Asian American applicants, practices racial balancing, over-values race in its admissions process, and has not exhausted race-neutral alternatives.
In the press release, Harvard stated that SFFA did not provide sufficient justification for the Supreme Court to grant a writ of certiorari.
“SFFA provides no good reason for the Court to revisit its precedent or the lower court decisions, especially given the petition’s disregard of the lower courts’ findings and distorted presentation of the relevant facts,” the press release reads.
Harvard’s brief claims the Supreme Court has “no reason to review” the case since it was decided and affirmed by two lower courts, and SFFA cannot prove that there was an error in their rulings.
“SFFA attempts to portray Harvard’s process as an example of race-conscious admissions gone awry. But the narrative SFFA presents was rejected by the district court in detailed factual findings upheld by the court of appeals. This Court will not reverse such ‘concurrent findings’ of two lower courts absent ‘a very obvious and exceptional showing of error,’” the brief reads, citing Supreme Court precedent. “SFFA cannot come close to making that demanding showing.”
The brief references the district court’s ruling that upheld the belief that the diversity enabled by race-conscious admissions contributes to a richer academic environment.
“Harvard has a compelling interest in pursuing the educational benefits of diversity, finding ‘[t]he evidence at trial … [makes] clear that a heterogeneous student body promotes a more robust academic environment with a greater depth and breadth of learning, encourages learning outside the classroom, and creates a richer sense of community.’”
In response to the brief, SFFA President Edward J. Blum said in a statement that SFFA hopes the Supreme Court will hear the case and rule against race-conscious admissions.
“The cornerstone of our nation’s civil rights laws is the principle that a student’s race and ethnicity should not be used to help, or harm, their college admissions prospects,” Blum said. “It is our hope that the Supreme Court accepts this lawsuit for review and ends the use of race in college admissions at Harvard and all colleges and universities.”
Harvard’s response to SFFA’s petition, previously due by March 31, was extended to May 17 at the request of the University.
Several legal experts said in previous interviews that should the Supreme Court agree to hear the case, the court’s conservative composition make it willing to overturn precedent and strike down Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policies.
—Staff writer Vivi E. Lu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.