Biden sides with Harvard on admissions

Responding to US Supreme Court’s request for its position, administration agrees the university’s affirmative action tools meet existing constitutional standards

December 9, 2021
Gates at Harvard University

The Biden administration has sided with Harvard University in defending its admissions policies, telling the US Supreme Court that the institution’s affirmative action practices fit within the top court’s existing precedents.

“Neither the district court’s factual findings nor the court of appeals’ application of this court’s precedents to those findings warrant further review,” the US Department of Justice said in a court filing.

Harvard has argued that it allows the race of its applicants some consideration, but not as a deciding factor, in its admissions policies, complying with a standard practice in US higher education that the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed as constitutional.

In a case first brought in 2014, Harvard won at the trial level in 2018, and again on appeal last year.

The plaintiff, a conservative group known as Students for Fair Admissions, has pursued similar actions against other institutions, also unsuccessfully. The University of North Carolina won its case at the trial level in October.

Yet the group’s president, Edward Blum, has held out the possibility that the Supreme Court, after gaining a six-to-three conservative majority during the Trump administration, might decide to revise its past precedents.

“It is to be hoped,” Mr Blum said after the Biden position was announced, “that the Supreme Court accepts the Harvard and University of North Carolina cases and ends the polarising, unfair and unconstitutional use of race in college admissions.”

The Supreme Court, which asked the administration in June for its position, is expected to announce early next year whether it will review the case or allow Harvard’s win at trial to stand.

Harvard, in a statement, said it hopes that the Biden administration’s argument in its favour ends the matter. “Now is not the time to reverse the unequivocal decisions of two federal courts reinforcing 40 years of Supreme Court precedent,” the university said.

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