Trump Administration Weighs in Against Harvard Affirmative Action

February 28, 2020

The U.S. Department of Justice filed an amicus curiae brief in the First Circuit Court of Appeals in support of a challenge by Asian-American applicants to Harvard’s admission practice.

The appellate court is reviewing whether to overturn Harvard’s victory before U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs, who ruled that the applicants were not unlawfully discriminated against.

Regardless of how the First Circuit rules, the case is expected to eventually be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Justice Department contends that the school’s race-based decision in reviewing applications is “a system of de facto quotas.”  Harvard argues it simply seeks “a diverse student body [that] is central to its educational mission and consistent with long-standing Supreme Court precedent.”

Why it’s important to companies:  However the case is ultimately decided, it could set the stage for attacks against employer diversity and inclusion initiatives, which are subject to similar, but not identical, legal standards from academia.  The makeup of the federal judiciary—and the Supreme Court—is considerably more conservative than in previous years when most of the precedents were established.