The Department of Justice just took a very public step into the affirmative action debate, joining a suit by a conservative group claiming Harvard discriminates against Asian-American applicants.
“The record evidence demonstrates that Harvard's race-based admissions process significantly disadvantages Asian-American applicants compared to applicants of other racial groups — including both white applicants and applicants from other racial minority groups,” the DOJ said in court papers filed Thursday.
The move comes a year after Sessions announced internally that the DOJ would work to demolish affirmative action, calling it “intentional race-based discrimination.” The DOJ had been signaling for months that it might side with the anti-affirmative action advocacy group Students for Fair Admissions in the Harvard suit, brought four years ago.
“The evidence, moreover, shows that Harvard provides no meaningful criteria to cabin its use of race; uses a vague ‘personal rating’ that harms Asian-American applicants’ chances for admission and may be infected with racial bias; engages in unlawful racial balancing; and has never seriously considered race-neutral alternatives in its more than 45 years of using race to make admissions decisions,” the DOJ wrote in its filing, which is signed by Acting Assistant Attorney General John M. Gore.
As part of a “statement of interest,” the DOJ wrote that it would oppose Harvard’s request to dismiss the lawsuit before it goes to trial on October 15 in Boston.
Harvard, whose student body is 22.2 percent Asian-American, has repeatedly denied that there are any discriminatory policies against Asian-Americans. In a statement responding to the DOJ's move Thursday, the school said:
We are deeply disappointed that the Department of Justice has taken the side of...Students for Fair Admissions, recycling the same misleading and hollow arguments that prove nothing more than the emptiness of the case against Harvard. This decision is not surprising given the highly irregular investigation the DOJ has engaged in thus far, and its recent action to repeal Obama-era guidelines on the consideration of race in admissions" in July.
And the American Civil Liberties Union said the move by the DOJ was an attempt to “dismantle progress in racial equity.”
“While the DOJ’s brief does not challenge Supreme Court precedent granting universities the right to freely select their own student body — presumably because it cannot do so at this stage of the litigation — the Trump administration has advocated for ‘race-blind’ policies, which Harvard and virtually all other universities have found are demonstrably insufficient to achieve meaningful diversity, given the reality of historic and continuing racial discrimination in this country,” the ACLU wrote in a statement.
However, DOJ lawyers cited Harvard’s federal funding as justification for its involvement in the suit, arguing that the DOJ must work to make sure that American tax dollars “do not serve to finance the evil of private prejudice.”
“No American should be denied admission to school because of their race,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a written 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.”