Trump administration backs Asian-Americans in Harvard case

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department on Thursday sided with Asian-American students suing Harvard University over the Ivy League school's consideration of race in its admissions policy, the latest step in the Trump administration's effort to encourage race-neutral admissions practices.

The Justice Department said in a court filing Thursday that the school has failed to demonstrate that it does not discriminate on the basis of race and cited what it described as "substantial evidence that Harvard is engaging in outright racial balancing."

The department's "statement of interest" was in a case filed in 2014 by Students For Fair Admission, which argues that one of the world's most prestigious universities discriminates against academically strong Asian-American applicants. Harvard fired back, saying that it does not discriminate against students and will fight to defend its right to use race as a factor in admissions.

RELATED: Harvard University's campus

23 PHOTOS
Harvard University's campus
See Gallery
Harvard University's campus
Entrance gate and East facade of Sever Hall at Harvard Yard in Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, MA, USA. It is used as the library, lecture hall and classroom for different courses.
Students sitting on the grass at Harvard Yard. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images)
CAMBRIDGE, MA - JANUARY 27: Students play football at the Quad, on the campus of Harvard University on January 27, 2015 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Boston, and much of the Northeast, is being hit with heavy snow from Winter Storm Juno. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
ALLSTON, BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, UNITED STATES - 2015/10/18: Soldiers Field or Harvard Stadium on the Allston Campus of Harvard University. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Baker Library at Harvard Business School
Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States
Aerial view of F Kennedy Street in the Harvard University Area in Cambridge, MA, USA
Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States
The high gothic Memorial Hall at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Completed in 1877, it is a monument to the memorial of graduates who fought for the Union cause in the Civil War. Today it is a National Historic Landmark.
BOSTON, MA - JULY 26: The campus of Harvard Business School, July 26, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. Harvard, one of the most prestigious business schools in the world, emphasizes the case method in the classroom. (Photo by Brooks Kraft/Corbis via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 26: The campus of Harvard Business School, July 26, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. Harvard, one of the most prestigious business schools in the world, emphasizes the case method in the classroom. (Photo by Brooks Kraft/Corbis via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 26: The campus of Harvard Business School, July 26, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. Harvard, one of the most prestigious business schools in the world, emphasizes the case method in the classroom. (Photo by Brooks Kraft/Corbis via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 26: The campus of Harvard Business School, July 26, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. Harvard, one of the most prestigious business schools in the world, emphasizes the case method in the classroom. (Photo by Brooks Kraft/Corbis via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 26: The campus of Harvard Business School, July 26, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. Harvard, one of the most prestigious business schools in the world, emphasizes the case method in the classroom. (Photo by Brooks Kraft/Corbis via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 26: The campus of Harvard Business School, July 26, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. Harvard, one of the most prestigious business schools in the world, emphasizes the case method in the classroom. (Photo by Brooks Kraft/Corbis via Getty Images)
CAMBRIDGE, MA - APRIL 5: Wadsworth Hall on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, MA is pictured on Apr. 5, 2016. (Photo by Dina Rudick/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
HARVARD UNIVERSITY, CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS, UNITED STATES - 2015/10/18: Dunster House dormitory with clock tower, Harvard University. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Wigglesworth Hall dormitory. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images)
A group sits on the steps of Widener Library at the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., on Tuesday, June 30, 2015. Harvard University, established in 1636, is the United States' oldest institution of higher learning. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The school motto 'Veritas' is inscribed over a gate at the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., on Tuesday, June 30, 2015. Harvard University, established in 1636, is the United States' oldest institution of higher learning. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Workers take down an American flag next to a statue of John Harvard in Harvard Yard at the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., on Tuesday, June 30, 2015. Harvard University, established in 1636, is the United States' oldest institution of higher learning. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Students on the campus of Harvard Law School in Cambridge, MA. Harvard Law School is the oldest continually-operating law school in the United States and is home to the largest academic law library in the world. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)
Students on the campus of Harvard Law School in Cambridge, MA. Harvard Law Schoolt is the oldest continually-operating law school in the United States and is home to the largest academic law library in the world. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The Supreme Court permits colleges and universities to consider race in admissions decisions but says it must be done in a narrowly tailored way to promote diversity and should be limited in time. Universities also bear the burden of showing why their consideration of race is appropriate.

But in Harvard's case, Justice Department officials said, the university hasn't explained how it uses race in admissions and has not adopted meaningful criteria to limit the use of race.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, "No American should be denied admission to school because of their race."

Harvard said it was disappointed by the Justice Department's "recycling the same misleading and hollow arguments that prove nothing more than the emptiness of the case against Harvard."

"Harvard does not discriminate against applicants from any group, and will continue to vigorously defend the legal right of every college and university to consider race as one factor among many in college admissions, which the Supreme Court has consistently upheld for more than 40 years," the university said in a statement. "Colleges and universities must have the freedom and flexibility to create the diverse communities that are vital to the learning experience of every student."

Sessions argued the school's use of a "personal rating," which includes highly subjective factors such as being a "good person" or "likeability," may be biased against Asian-Americans. Sessions said the school admits that it scores Asian-American applicants lower on personal rating than other students. Sessions also argued that Harvard admissions officers monitor and manipulate the racial makeup of incoming classes.

Edward Blum, president of SFFA, hailed the administration's action. "We look forward to having the gravely troubling evidence that Harvard continues to keep redacted disclosed to the American public in the near future," he said.

The Justice Department's court filing opposes Harvard's request to dismiss the lawsuit before trial.

"Harvard's failure to provide meaningful criteria to cabin its voluntary use of race, its use of a personal rating that significantly harms Asian-American applicants' chances of admission and may be infected with racial bias, and the substantial evidence that Harvard is engaging in outright racial balancing each warrant denial of Harvard's Motion for Summary Judgment," the department said in the filing.

The department is separately investigating Harvard's admissions policies, a probe that could also result in a lawsuit.

The filing follows a July decision by the Justice and Education departments to abandon Obama-era guidelines that instructed universities to consider race in their admissions process to make the student body more diverse. Democrats criticized the decision, saying that the Trump administration was taking away protections for minorities.

______

Binkley reported from Boston.

Read Full Story