Vanita Gupta questions DOJ’s stand in lawsuit against Harvard

Vanita Gupta questions DOJ’s stand in lawsuit against Harvard

A coalition of civil rights and Asian-American advocacy organizations, led by the former head of the Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights, Vanita Gupta, have slammed the amicus brief filed by the department in support of the lawsuit filed by Asian-American students and parents against Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policy.

Harvard is being sued by a group calling itself Students for Fair Admissions which is working to have the school dismantle its race-conscious admissions policy, which it said discriminates against Asian-American students.

The Justice Department on Aug. 30 in its amicus brief, said that Harvard has “failed to demonstrate that it does not discriminate on the basis of race,” siding with the Asian-American students, including some Indian-Americans suing the Ivy League school’s race-based admissions policy as discriminatory. The brief said, “Harvard is engaging in outright racial balancing.”

Last year, the DOJ opened a Title VI investigation into Harvard’s admissions process, based upon a complaint filed by several Asian-American organizations that also included some Indian-American organizations, arguing that admissions should be based strictly on merit.

Some reports have suggested that if Harvard and other institutions that have a race-conscious admissions policy eliminate these policies, the Asian-American student population would rise to as much as 40 percent for a population of approximately 6 percent in the U.S. while the African-American and Hispanic-American students admitted could drop drastically with the African American students admissions being reduced to less than 2 percent.

“Despite a lot of these programs, blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented in colleges and universities today even more so than they were in 1980,” Gupta said.

The Supreme Court has upheld use of race as a factor in college admissions as recently as 2016.

“The Justice Department’s investigation is unprecedented,” Vanita Gupta, who had led the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under President Obama, had said in 2017. She is now president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “The Justice Department has never been a party in these cases directly investigating an institution.”

Gupta has filed an amicus brief opposing Harvard’s motion for summary judgment in the case. Gupta’s filing argues that the Justice Department, under Jeff Sessions, “opposes constitutionally sound strategies that colleges and universities are using to expand educational opportunity for students of all backgrounds.”  The Justice Department recently filed a statement of interest in the lawsuit which has called Harvard’s affirmative action policy discriminatory against Asian-Americans.

Gupta called justice officials’ action one more example of “the administration’s contempt for efforts to build a more inclusive, just society. It is now backing Edward Blum’s longstanding political agenda to undermine diversity in education and opportunity for millions of young people.”

Blum, a financial adviser considered the leading force behind Students for Fair Admissions, had filed the lawsuit charging Harvard with discrimination against Asian-Americans in its admissions practices. Gupta said that Sessions’ recent action shows his department “has once again abdicated its responsibility to enforce the law and protect the civil rights of all people in America.”

Sessions’ office, however, stands by its filing. “The Department of Justice has the responsibility to protect the civil rights of the American people. This case is significant because the admissions policies at our colleges and universities are important and must be conducted lawfully,” Sessions said in a press release. The DOJ press release said that “Harvard admits that it uses race to decide whether to admit certain applicants to the college. Under Supreme Court precedent, Harvard must demonstrate that its use of race does not result in illegal discrimination.” The department said that Harvard has failed to do so and plaintiffs should be allowed to proceed to a trial.

“No American should be denied admission to school because of their race,” said Sessions. “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.”

“The Justice Department clearly seems to be trying to tee up another case for the Supreme Court. It looks like right now that they are looking for a sympathetic, attractive group of plaintiffs — here it’s Asian-Americans students who’ve been denied admission at Harvard — and to try to drive a wedge among communities of color by kind of pitting Asian-Americans against African-American and Hispanic students,” Gupta had said.

National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA) agreed with Gupta. Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which also represents over two dozen Asian-American groups, joined by some senior education faculty at leading universities, for its part, filed an amicus brief in support of Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policy.

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