Federal Judge Denies Harvard’s Bid To Dismiss Affirmative Action-Related Lawsuit

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2017/06/08/federal-judge-denies-harvards-bid-to-dismiss-affirmative-action-related-lawsuit/

BOSTON — A federal judge has squashed Harvard University’s bid to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks to draw back the curtain on the elite institution’s admissions policies.

The plaintiffs, represented by the Arlington, Virginia-based Students For Fair Admissions organization, have sought to prove that Harvard discriminates against qualified Asian applicants. The complaint names several plaintiffs, including an unnamed Chinese-American student from a nationally ranked high school who graduated at the top of his class but was later denied admission to Harvard’s incoming class in 2014.

Students for Fair Admissions’ lawsuit cites the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and alleges that Harvard’s policy violates sections of the Civil Rights Act, specifically charging that the university “employs racially and ethnically discriminatory policies and procedures in administering its undergraduate admissions program.”

In her ruling denying Harvard’s motion to dismiss, U.S District Court Judge Allison D. Burroughs determined that the organization met prior prerequisites laid out in earlier federally-decided cases to pursue the complaint. Harvard in its motion to dismiss had challenged whether Students for Fair Admissions had legal standing to sue on behalf of the plaintiffs, which included seven Asian-Americans who had been rejected.

“SFFA now has approximately 20,000 members, although for present purposes it only asserts associational standing based on the circumstances of thirteen of its members, most of whom have submitted signed declarations in support of SFFA’s opposition to the motion to dismiss,” Burroughs pointed out. “Seven of these 13 members are Asian-American students who applied to and were rejected from Harvard and two are Asian-American high school students who intend to apply to Harvard in the future. Their declarations state that they have voluntarily joined SFFA, support its mission, have been in contact with SFFA, and had the opportunity to express their views on the direction of this litigation.”

To summarize, Harvard had previously called for SFFA’s plaintiffs to be subjected to a “membership test.”  

Burroughs, citing several examples from U.S. Supreme Court decisions, continued:

“The Court’s conclusion — that the indicia-of-membership inquiry should not be applied to SFFA under the circumstances of this case — is consistent with the rationale underlying associational standing.”

Burroughs added that the case’s circumstances “do not call for a functional analysis of SFFA’s membership” and determined that “it can be presumed for the purposes of standing that SFFA adequately represents the interests of its current members without needing to test this further based on the indicia-of-membership factors.”

Burroughs, however, later granted Harvard its defense team’s motion to quash two arguments introduced by the organization’s attorneys, namely a claim that the Supreme Court’s prior rulings supporting race as a factor in determining admissions be disregarded. Attorneys representing Harvard had pointed to a case involving Abigail Fisher, a student denied entry by the University of Texas-Austin, as precedent relative to race-centric admission acceptances being constitutional.

That decision, however, purportedly has no bearing on Students for Fair Admissions’ claim that Asian-American students and others have been unfairly discriminated against. In the Texas case, race was one of several factors that contributed to a candidate’s overall score from admissions officers. But the plaintiffs in the Harvard case say Harvard used race to deny them entry.

The judge noted that Students for Fair Admissions submitted declarations from members of the organization who claim to be aggrieved.

“Harvard attempts to minimize the relevance of these declarations by arguing that assessing the genuineness of SFFA’s membership should be done with reference to the entire membership, rather than just a few select members,” Burroughs wrote.

But the judge said the organization has shown evidence that it is representing the interests of the students who say they have been illegally harmed by Harvard.

Burroughs’s ruling, in addition, means that SFFA will not be forced to divulge the identity of its members.

In earlier filings, SFFA attorney Patrick Strawbridge had argued that Harvard’s discovery request, demanding the membership list of SFFA, constituted an “unreasonable” request. Strawbridge described Harvard’s request as a “fishing expedition.”

Wrote Burroughs:

“The Court has already highlighted certain general characteristics of SFFA that ensure its representation of its members as a whole. The individual declarations, which show that SFFA leadership communicates with members about this litigation and that the Standing Members have given input concerning the case, further bolster SFFA’s claim that it is representing the interests of its members.”

Attorneys representing both sides have yet to respond to a New Boston Post request for comment, as of Thursday evening.


READ:  Judge Allison Burroughs’s order