Justice Department Files Statement of Interest in Harvard Discrimination Case Defending Claim That Harvard Intentionally Discriminates on the Basis of Race in Admissions
The Department of Justice today filed a Statement of Interest on the side of the plaintiff in Students For Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President And Fellows Of Harvard College in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The plaintiff, Students For Fair Admissions, an organization of students and parents, alleges that Harvard College intentionally discriminates against Asian-American applicants when making admissions decisions. The plaintiff seeks relief from Harvard’s alleged discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a cornerstone civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. The Department opened a Title VI investigation into Harvard’s admissions process in 2017 based upon a complaint filed by more than 60 Asian-American organizations.
The United States’ Statement of Interest filed today argues that Harvard has failed to show that it does not unlawfully discriminate against Asian Americans.
As a condition1 of receiving millions of dollars in taxpayer funding every year, Harvard specifically agrees to not discriminate on the basis of race in its admissions decisions. However, the students and parents who brought this suit have presented compelling evidence that Harvard’s use of race unlawfully discriminates against Asian Americans. In today’s filing, the United States urges the court to grant the plaintiffs the opportunity to prove these claims at trial.
In filing the Statement of Interest, Attorney General Jeff Sessions provided the following statement:
“No American should be denied admission to school because of their race. As a recipient of taxpayer dollars, Harvard has a responsibility to conduct its admissions policy without racial discrimination by using meaningful admissions criteria that meet lawful requirements. The Department of Justice has the responsibility to protect the civil rights of the American people. This case is significant because the admissions policies at our colleges and universities are important and must be conducted lawfully.”
Harvard admits that it uses race to decide whether to admit certain applicants to the college. Under Supreme Court precedent, Harvard must demonstrate that its use of race does not result in illegal discrimination. Harvard has failed to do so, and the Department filed a Statement of Interest that argues the plaintiffs should be allowed to proceed to a trial.
While Harvard admits to using race in its admissions process, it has failed to provide any meaningful criteria to explain how it weighs race against other factors in a candidate’s application (e.g., test scores and extracurricular activities), and how it limits its use of race to ensure that no illegal discrimination occurs. Supreme Court precedent requires Harvard to provide such an explanation, which it has failed to do in this case.
Further, the evidence shows that Harvard uses a “personal rating” that may be biased against Asian Americans. Based solely on a review of the applicant’s file, Harvard scores its applicants based on “subjective” factors such as “likability” and being a “good person” with “human qualities.” Harvard admits that, on average, it scores Asian-American applicants lower on this “personal rating” than applicants of other races.
Substantial evidence also demonstrates that Harvard admissions officers and committees consistently monitor and manipulate the racial makeup of incoming classes, which has resulted in stable racial demographics in Harvard’s admitted classes from year to year. The Supreme Court has called such attempts to “racially balance” the makeup of a student body “patently unconstitutional.”
Finally, the Justice Department has determined that Harvard—while using race to make admissions decisions for more than 45 years—has never seriously considered alternative, race-neutral ways to compile a diverse student body, which it is required to do under existing law.
More information about the Civil Rights Division and the civil rights laws it enforces is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt.
1See 42 U.S.C. § 2000d; Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244, 275-76 & n.23 (2003) (“[D]iscrimination that violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment committed by an institution that accepts federal funds also constitutes a violation of Title VI.”).