A federal appeals court on Wednesday appeared skeptical of arguments Harvard University discriminates against applicants of Asian and American descent, an allegation in a closely watched trial challenging the use of race as an entry factor at university in the United States.
Members of a three-judge panel from the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston asked why it should find that a trial judge wrongly dismissed students’ requests for fair admissions (SFFA), an organization nonprofit founded by anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum.
The Conservatives have long been critical of affirmative action. Legal experts say the case could go to the United States Supreme Court, giving its conservative majority a chance to reconsider previous rulings that allowed race to be considered an admissions factor.
Blum’s group, which includes candidates of Asian and American descent and has the backing of President Donald Trump’s administration, says the Ivy League school is committed to a “racial balance. Ineligible for the benefit of other preferred minority groups, such as blacks and Hispanics.
SFFA attorney William Consovoy argued that despite high academic scores, Asian Americans were admitted at a lower rate than other groups because of the racial stereotypes of admissions officers who attributed them low “personal” scores.
Consovoy asked the court to think about how it would assess such low marks if they were given to well-qualified black applicants for jobs in the police or fire department.
“I think this tribunal would be skeptical or fearful that this is discrimination and not that African American firefighters or police officers actually have worse personal qualities,” he said.
US Department of Justice attorney Eric Dreiband argued that Harvard, in adopting its admissions system, had “no serious consideration of racial alternatives.”
But those arguments prompted questions from panelists, including US Circuit Judge Juan Torruella, who asked, “What is the evidence of racial profiling here? ”
Harvard attorney Seth Waxman argued that a “mountain of evidence” showed she did not intentionally discriminate against Asian Americans.
He urged the court to uphold a ruling by US District Judge Allison Burroughs, who ruled last year that Harvard does not have “feasible and available alternatives regardless of race” to ensure a diverse student body.
U.S. Circuit Judge Sandra Lynch, during arguments, highlighted previous U.S. Supreme Court rulings that allow universities to view race as a factor in addressing the disadvantages that minority students have faced in because of racial prejudice.
“Harvard may actually consider more than just classifying the classes and academic achievements of applicants of Asian and American descent,” she said.