Justice Department says Harvard illegally discriminated against Asian-Americans

August 30, 2018

The Trump Administration Thursday weighed in on a legal battle between Harvard University and group that claims the prestigious school unconstitutionally lowers the rankings of Asian-American students during the admissions process.

In a statement of interest, the Department of Justice said Harvard has failed to prove it does not unlawfully discriminate against Asian-Americans.

“No American should be denied admission to school because of their race,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “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 group, Students for Fair Admissions, filed a lawsuit earlier this year claiming Harvard uses “racial balancing” as part of its admissions formula and that practice is illegal. Harvard has challenged those claims, saying the group is misinterpreting data it released about how it selects students.

Justice Department lawyers said the group has presented “compelling evidence” that Harvard’s factoring race into admitting students does discriminate against Asian-Americans. Furthermore, they argue that Harvard agrees not to discriminate on the basis race as a condition of receiving millions of dollars in annual taxpayer funding.

Harvard uses a “personal rating” that includes subjective factors including “likability” and whether someone is a “good person” with “human qualities,” according to court documents. The school has admitted that, on average, it has ranked Asian-American applications lower on these qualities, the Justice Department charges in its court filing.

Students for Fair Admission said in a June court filing, Asian-Americans would account for more than 43 percent of the students admitted to Harvard, rather than the 18.7 percent.

In its court filings, Harvard accuses the group of painting “a dangerously inaccurate” picture of its admissions process, saying they also consider personal essays and teacher recommendations.

The Justice Department lawyers said Harvard has not provided any meaningful criteria to explain how it weighs race against the other factors in a application, a requirement under Supreme Court of the United States precedent.

In June, both sides filed motions for summary judgment, seeking to head off a potential trial scheduled for October in a Massachusetts federal court. The Justice Department’s motion asks the court to deny Harvard’s motion for summary judgement.

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