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DOJ stands behind Asian-American students suing Harvard over affirmative action policies

The U.S. Department of Justice filed court documents on Thursday, accusing Harvard University of discriminating against applicants of Asian descent. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Department of Justice picked sides Thursday in an ongoing case against Harvard University. The department filed court documents accusing the school of illegally discriminating against Asian-Americans.

What's the background?

Advocacy group Students for Fair Admissions initially filed the suit against Harvard in 2014. SFFA, which was founded by conservative legal strategist Edward Blum, argues on its website that "racial classifications and preferences in college admissions are unfair, unnecessary, and unconstitutional."

SFFA's lawsuit alleges that Harvard discriminates against Asian-Americans in its acceptance process, claiming that an Asian-American male applicant, who has a 25 percent chance of making the cut, would have a 35 percent chance if he were white, a 75 percent chance if he were Hispanic, and a 95 percent chance of admission if he were black.

The plaintiffs claim that students of Asian-American descent are unfairly and disproportionately "rated down" for  subjective reasons under Harvard's admissions system, in spite of having stronger academic and extra-curricular credentials than other applicants.

Last month, the Trump administration announced it would be scrapping Obama-era policies that encouraged universities to consider race in admissions.

However, Harvard wants to keep its affirmative action policies in place.

"It's alarming that Trump is aligning himself with anti-civil rights activist Edward Blum in this subversive attempt to say that civil rights protections cause discrimination," Jeannie Park, the head of the university's Asian-American Alumni Alliance, told the New York Times,

Park went on to assert that "Asian-Americans have long benefited from policies to increase equal opportunity and still do."

"Our fear is that Harvard's admissions system is just the latest target in a larger fight to roll back protections for people of color in all fields, including government and business," Park said.


What did the DOJ say?

The DOJ argued in court filings Thursday that "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.

"The evidence, moreover, shows that Harvard provides no meaningful criteria to cabin its use of race; uses a vague 'personal rating' that harms Asian-American applicants' chances for admission and may be infected with racial bias; engages in unlawful racial balancing; and has never seriously considered race-neutral alternatives in its more than 45 years of using race to made admissions decisions," the filings stated.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a statement on the DOJ's position, saying, "No American should be denied admission to school because of their race. As a recipient of taxpayer dollars, Harvard has a responsibility to conduct its admissions policy without racial discrimination by using meaningful admissions criteria that meet lawful requirements."


Update: Harvard University provided TheBlaze with a statement about this story, which we have included here in its entirety:

"We are deeply disappointed that the Department of Justice has taken the side of Edward Blum and Students for Fair Admissions, recycling the same misleading and hollow arguments that prove nothing more than the emptiness of the case against Harvard. This decision is not surprising given the highly irregular investigations the DOJ has engaged in thus far, and its recent action to repeal Obama-era guidelines on the consideration of race in admissions.

"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. Colleges and universities must have the freedom and flexibility to create the diverse communities that are vital to the learning experience of every student, and Harvard is proud to stand with the many organizations and individuals who are filing briefs in support of this position today."

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