A major challenge to the use of race in college admissions was turned aside Tuesday by a federal judge in Boston who upheld affirmative action policies at Harvard University, the nation’s oldest institution of higher learning.
District Judge Allison Burroughs, who was named to the bench by President Barack Obama in 2014, the same year the lawsuit was filed, ruled that Harvard did not violate federal civil rights law by using race and ethnicity as factors in the admissions process.
The affirmative action policy “serves a compelling, permissible and substantial interest, and it is necessary and narrowly tailored to achieve diversity and the academic benefits that flow from diversity,” Burroughs wrote in a 130-page decision.
Her decision is almost certain to be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and eventually to the Supreme Court, unless it is reversed. That process could take several more years.
Affirmative action policies have been on opponents’ chopping block for decades but have been upheld by a series of Supreme Court decisions dating back to 1978. In 2003, the court opined that in 25 years, racial preferences no longer would be necessary to achieve diversity.
“As time marches on and the effects of entrenched racism and unequal opportunity remain obvious, this goal might be optimistic and may need to change,” Burroughs wrote. But, she said, “The rich diversity at Harvard and other colleges and universities and the benefits that flow from that diversity will foster the tolerance, acceptance and understanding that will ultimately make race conscious admissions obsolete.”
Most recently, the Supreme Court ruled 4-3 three years ago that “considerable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission.”
But that decision was written by Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court’s longtime swing vote, who retired last year. He was succeeded by the more conservative Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, giving opponents of affirmative action hope for a reversal in the future.
The case against Harvard was brought five years ago by opponents of affirmative action using the moniker Students for Fair Admissions, the brainchild of conservative legal strategist Edward Blum. In a twist, the group charged that Harvard discriminated against Asian American students in order to boost African American and Hispanic enrollment.
Credit: US today