The Historic Fight for Affirmative Action is Far From Over

The current lawsuit wants us to pretend that racism doesn’t exist, and that we shouldn’t fight for racial equity.

Wednesday, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law delivered closing arguments in Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) vs. Harvard in support of Harvard’s race-conscious holistic admissions policy and the importance of a diverse campus. Over the course of this trial, we have offered overwhelming evidence making clear that diversity benefits students and helps prepare graduates to succeed in the world. We have had the privilege of representing Harvard alumni and students who shared their ethnicity when applying to Harvard because they felt it was an inextricable aspect of their identities. Their first-hand perspectives and testimonies have truly helped to illuminate the issues at stake in this case and underscored the continuing need for campus diversity today.

Anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) originally brought this lawsuit against Harvard in 2014. It challenges Harvard’s race-conscious holistic admissions policy under claims that the policy intentionally discriminates against Asian American students and violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The Lawyers’ Committee, along with a coalition of other justice groups, entered with a special “amicus plus” status, allowing the represented students to participate in oral argument and submit evidence and greatly enhancing their voices beyond a typical amicus brief.

Today, our argument laid out three undisputed fact: 1) Race provides critical texture to many applications that allows Harvard to accurately assess applicants’ strengths and potential contributions in college; 2) Eliminating the consideration of race would sharply reduce the number of students of color on campus; and 3) Socioeconomic status cannot serve as a proxy of race, as the benefits of racial diversity are distinct. On the other hand, SFFA also had up to 60 minutes for argument, yet did not call a single student to testify at trial. Instead, SFFA attempted to erase countless student stories by placing undue emphasis on its flawed statistical analysis and by ignoring the wealth of evidence in our clients’ application files. As one of our clients, Sarah Cole (Harvard ’16), commented, “Race-blind admissions in an active erasure. To try to not see my race is to try to not see me.”

As trial wraps, we are moving forward with convening diverse stakeholders to create litigation strategies, as well as strategies for public education and messaging around the clear benefits of racial diversity on campus and the polices, practices and laws that we must defend in order for diversity to thrive. I welcome your thoughts and leadership regarding next steps in this fight, as well as your questions about this particular case and other similar lawsuits.