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On September 30 a federal district judge in Massachusetts issued a ruling rejecting discrimination claims in Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 170309 (D. Mass.), a case that many expect to go to the U.S. Supreme Court and potentially redefine affirmative action law. In the case, Asian-American students allege that Harvard’s racial preferences for other minority groups discriminate against them in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The students introduced evidence that Asian enrollment at Harvard is less than half what it would be if admission was based solely on academic achievement; that Asian applicants receive the lowest scores on an amorphous “personal rating” assigned by admissions officials who have not met them; and that Harvard’s “holistic” admissions system, touted by the Supreme Court as the model for permissible racial preferences, was originally devised to exclude Jews.
The case raises the question of the meaning of “diversity” in an increasingly multi-racial era, and the continued justification for affirmative action in that era when its burden may now fall largely not on the white majority but on another historically marginalized racial minority group.
Dennis Saffran, a New York appellate attorney and Vice President of the Federalist Society Long Island Lawyers Chapter, submitted an amicus brief in the case on behalf of the National Association of Scholars and has written about the case for the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. He will review the Supreme Court’s major affirmative action precedents since Bakke in 1978 and the arguments in the Harvard litigation in light of these precedents.
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