Circuit Court Upholds Harvard’s Race-Conscious Admissions Policy

Supreme-Court precedent for diversity requirements, and concluded that the race-neutral alternatives presented were illogical.
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The U.S. Circuit Court for the First Circuit in Massachusetts ruled in a 2-0 decision Thursday in SFFA v. Harvard that Harvard University’s race-conscious admissions policy must be upheld.

The court found that Harvard’s policy is consistent with Supreme-Court precedent for diversity requirements, and concluded that the race-neutral alternatives presented were illogical. The following are statements from civil rights groups who presented oral arguments before the court:

“Affirmative action has proven to be a critical and effective tool for advancing equal access to educational opportunity on campuses across our country,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “As the court makes clear, Harvard’s race-conscious admissions complies with Supreme Court precedent and is critical for promoting diversity, which enriches the educational environment for all students and better prepares students to thrive in an increasingly multi-ethnic society. Race-conscious policies also better ensure highly-qualified students from all walks of life have a fair shot in a system that too often stacks the deck against people of color and lower-income communities. As our nation continues to undergo a national reckoning with ongoing racism, it is critical that courts respect precedents that have helped move our nation forward when it comes to racial justice and diversity.”

“Justice has prevailed once again. The court’s decision affirms the right for all Asian Americans to have a chance to share the whole story of who they are as part of the college admissions process because overcoming racial discrimination is a big part of a student’s story,” said John C. Yang, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC’s president and executive director. “The ruling today allows Asian American students who struggle against dehumanizing stereotypes or have to overcome other struggles to attain higher education.”


The case was appealed from a lower-court ruling which validated the race-conscious admissions policy, and for more than 40 years, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that it is lawful for universities to have an admissions plan that considers race as one of many factors. The court notes on page 63 of the decision: “Harvard’s interest in student body diversity and its consideration of race to attain it is also not unique. Many other colleges and universities consider an applicant’s race, in addition to many other factors, in admissions. And the business community has communicated its interest in having a well-educated, diverse hiring pool both in this case and in the prior governing Supreme Court cases.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is also currently in trial in SFFA v. UNC-Chapel Hill, and is presenting witness testimony from prospective and current students, as well as alumni, about how UNC’s race-conscious admissions policy is beneficial and must be upheld.

Read the full ruling here.

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