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Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. Harvard

BACKGROUND:

SFFA v. Harvard College is a lawsuit spearheaded by anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum that seeks to eradicate over 40 years of established legal precedent, which allows colleges to consider the race of highly-qualified applicants in admissions to promote the benefits of diverse learning environments. Students for Fair Admissions (“SFFA”), the named organizational plaintiff created by Blum, claims Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policy unlawfully discriminates against Asian-American applicants in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. SFFA seeks to ban Harvard and other colleges from considering—or even knowing—the race of its applicants.

Since 2015, the Lawyers’ Committee and its partners have represented a multi-racial, multi-ethnic group of Harvard students who are defending a university’s right to consider race to promote diversity and inclusion (“Students”). The district court granted the Students special “amicus-plus” status, which afforded them the opportunity to present witnesses at trial along with opening and closing arguments. Their “amicus-plus” status also permitted Students to file extended briefs on dispositive motions and submit student declarations and post-trial findings.

Harvard and the Lawyers’ Committee prevailed on each of SFFA’s six counts listed in the Complaint. The District Court dismissed two counts before trial: that Harvard was prohibited from considering race in any manner in admissions and that Harvard was prohibited from considering race beyond the “last few” admissions decisions. The September 30th decision resolved the remaining counts, holding that Harvard did not intentionally discriminate against Asian Americans through any aspect of its admissions policy; Harvard did not engage in racial balancing; and Harvard’s policy was narrowly targeted and necessary to harness the benefits of a diverse student body.

Of note, the district court’s September 30th opinion repeatedly cited Students’ testimony to conclusively find racial diversity produces vital benefits at Harvard, and racial identity is critical for fairly evaluating highly-talented students of all backgrounds.

Immediately following this favorable decision, SFFA filed its Notice of Appeal in the First Circuit. The First Circuit issued a schedule for parties and amici to submit briefs over the course of Spring 2020.

The Lawyers’ Committee represents the Students with co-counsel from Asian Americans Advancing Justice Center (AAJC), Boston’s Lawyers’ For Civil Rights, and Arnold & Porter.

LEGAL DOCUMENTS:

  • Amicus brief: Memorandum of Amici Curiae in Support Of Defendants Motion for Summary Judgment on Remaining Counts II, III, V in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc., Plaintiff, v. President and Fellows Of Harvard College (Harvard Corporation), Defendant.

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