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Group Opposed To Harvard's Admissions Policies Urge Appeals Court To Overturn Ruling

The Harvard Veritas coat of arms on one of the gates at Harvard Yard. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Harvard Veritas coat of arms on one of the gates at Harvard Yard. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Students For Fair Admissions (SFFA) took another step forward in its legal challenge against Harvard University's admissions policies. The group, which has appealed a lower court ruling in favor of the school, filed its opening brief to the First Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday afternoon, just minutes before a court deadline.

"We used all of our allotted time to, I believe, write a very persuasive brief showing the court of appeals the errors that the lower court made," said SFFA President Edward Blum.

The group's attorneys argued in their brief that Harvard's "transparent regime of racial balancing flagrantly violates settled law."

SFFA alleges that Harvard inappropriately considers race in its highly competitive admissions process. In their initial lawsuit, attorneys with SFFA made four main arguments to bolster their case: That Harvard uses a racial balancing system or quota; Harvard imposes a racial penalty on Asian American applicants; Harvard weighs race too much in admissions;  and that Harvard did not adequately consider race-neutral alternatives to serve its student diversity goals.

In October, District Court Judge Allison Burroughs ruled in favor of Harvard on all four counts. In her ruling, she described the admissions system as "not perfect" but said that it passed constitutional muster. Burroughs added that she found "no evidence of any racial animus whatsoever."

SFFA's notice of appeal came three days later.

"It’s our hope that the First Circuit Court of Appeals will reverse the lower court's erroneous opinion and compel Harvard to end its use of race in its admissions policies," said Blum.

Harvard has denied its admissions policy is discriminatory. In a written statement, officials with the school said the university will vigorously defend the court's decision.

"Harvard’s pursuit of a diverse student body is central to its educational mission and consistent with longstanding Supreme Court precedent," wrote Harvard spokesperson Rachel Dane. "Today’s filing by Students for Fair Admissions further exposes their ultimate goal of removing the consideration of race in college and university admissions."

Harvard will have a chance to submit a reply to today's filing. Oral arguments will be scheduled some time after that.

Officials with SFFA say they hope the appeals court will rule in their favor but are prepared to appeal the decision all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States if necessary.

Related:

Carrie Jung Twitter Reporter, Edify
Carrie is a senior education reporter with Edify.

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