In a move that should surprise no one given the anti-affirmative action stance of the Trump administration, the Justice Department has come out in support of the students who are suing Harvard University over claims that its admissions policies discriminate against Asian American applicants.
The lawsuit, which is spearheaded by Edward Blum—the conservative activist who worked with Abigail Fisher to file her lawsuit against the University of Texas in Austin—is slated to go on trial in October. In a statement of interest filed on Thursday, the Justice Department wrote that “Harvard has failed to carry its demanding burden to show that its use of race does not inflict unlawful racial discrimination on Asian Americans. To the contrary, 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.”
Both Harvard as well as supporters of affirmative action, including many Asian American organizations and individuals, deny that the university is systematically discriminating against Asian American applicants, pointing out that the percentage of Asian American students who are admitted to Harvard—roughly 22 percent—mirror their percentage of the applicant pool, and arguing that Harvard’s use of a holistic admissions process benefits many Asian American students.
A slew of civil rights groups from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to Asian American organizations like Asian Americans Advancing Justice-LA have filed their own briefs in support of the use of race-conscious admissions at Harvard.
“The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that colleges have the right to consider race as one of multiple factors when reviewing the full spectrum of an applicant’s identity and academic potential,” said Jin Hee Lee of LDF, which is representing more than 20 Harvard student and alumni groups. “This lawsuit may claim to represent the interests of Asian American students, but in reality, it is an unabashed attempt to eliminate important efforts to foster diversity in college campuses to the detriment of all students, including Asian Americans.”
The DOJ’s support for Ed Blum and the plaintiffs in his lawsuit is just the latest salvo in the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle affirmative action. The DOJ had already been investigating whether Harvard University discriminated against Asian American applicants in its admissions process. And in July of this year, the Trump administration announced it was abandoning an Obama administration policy that encouraged universities to consider race in their admissions process, with the goal of pushing “colorblind” alternatives.
Given that many believe the lawsuit against Harvard may head to the Supreme Court, and with the increasingly conservative tilt of the highest court in the land, the future of affirmative action looks more and more tenuous.