By Nate Raymond
BOSTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration on Wednesday urged the U.S. Supreme Court to decline to hear a case against Harvard University challenging the ability of it and other schools to consider race as a factor in student admissions to boost diversity.
The justices in June asked the administration for its views on the case, which could give the court’s 6-3 conservative majority a chance to end affirmative action policies used to increase the number of Black and Hispanic students on American campuses.
Students for Fair Admissions, a group founded by anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum, is appealing a decision upholding Harvard’s race-conscious admissions practices and hopes to overturn a 2003 Supreme Court ruling that preserved such polices.
SFFA accuses Harvard of discriminating against Asian-American applicants by engaging in impermissible “racial balancing” to make it easier for Blacks and Hispanics to win admission at the expense of Asian-American applicants.
But Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar argued in a brief that it would be an “extraordinary step” for the court to reconsider its past rulings and called the case a “poor vehicle” to do so.
The lawsuit contends Harvard’s actions violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars racial discrimination under any program receiving federal financial assistance.
Prelogar argued reconsidering its past decisions would be disruptive for universities that had come to “rely on the permissibility of a holistic, flexible approach like Harvard’s as a benchmark in structuring their own admissions policies.”
Blum in a statement said the brief “regrettably advocates for the continuation of racial classifications and preferences in college admissions,” and urged the court to hear the case and a related one against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Harvard in a statement welcomed the administration’s support of policies like its own to create diverse campuses.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)