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Judge rules Harvard doesn't discriminate against Asian Americans in admissions

By Sommer Brokaw
Judge rules Harvard doesn't discriminate against Asian Americans in admissions
Houghton Library on Harvard Univesity's campus is shown. The university won a lawsuit Tuesday against plaintiffs accusing it of bias against admitting Asian Americans. Photo courtesy of Harvard University

Oct. 1 (UPI) -- Harvard's admissions process doesn't discriminate against Asian Americans, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

At issue was Harvard University's holistic admissions program, a comprehensive process where more than one reviewer considers factors beyond academic merit, including but not limited to race.

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U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs rejected Asian-American students' allegations that they had been systematically discriminated against by Harvard University's holistic admissions policy.

"Harvard's admission program passes constitutional muster," the judge said. "Ensuring diversity relies, in part, on race conscious admissions."

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Burroughs said the university had a right to choose a diverse class and defended diversity's benefits.

"For purposes of this case, at least for now, ensuring diversity at Harvard, relies, in part, on race conscious admissions," the judge said. "The students who are admitted to Harvard and choose to attend will live and learn surrounded by all sorts of people, with all sorts of experiences, beliefs and talents. They will have the opportunity to know and understand one another beyond race, as whole individuals with unique histories and experiences. It is this, at Harvard and elsewhere that will move us, one day, to the point where we see that race is a fact, but not the defining fact and not the fact that tells us what is important, but we are not there yet."

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Longstanding Supreme Court precedent allows race to be considered as one factor among many in university admissions process, but prohibits universities from using quotas in admissions.

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The U.S. Supreme Court, in an affirmative action case four decades ago, cited Harvard's holistic program as an "illuminating example" of how race could be used as one of several factors in college admissions.

Students for Fair Admissions, a non-profit representing a group of Asian-American students rejected by Harvard, filed the suit in 2014, alleging Harvard intentionally discriminated against them by holding them to a higher standard as Asian Americans get better scores and grades on average. The Justice Department rebuked Harvard last summer saying plaintiffs had "compelling evidence" of discrimination.

The case's outcome was viewed as pivotal to race-conscious affirmative action in the United States, which is nearly six decades old, when the discrimination that led to it stretches back for centuries.

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Legal experts have said that SFFA will likely appeal and the case could wind up in the Supreme Court.

"I think what this case represents is a very concerted effort to bring the question of race-conscious admissions back to the Supreme Court," said Liliana Garces, a University of Texas law professor.

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