A Judge Just Sided with Harvard in the Big Affirmative Action Case

Harvard's admissions system "passes constitutional muster," the federal judge's ruling reads.

2012 Harvard file photo via AP/Elise Amendola

In a legal battle over how its race-conscious admissions policy impacts Asian-American students, Harvard has just been handed a victory from a federal judge.

In her decision on Tuesday, judge Allison Burroughs sided with the university, ruling that “ensuring diversity at Harvard relies, in part, on race conscious admissions” and that, while it is “not perfect,” Harvard’s admissions system “passes constitutional muster.”

The case, brought by a group called Students for Fair Admissions, has been a contentious one. Conservative activist Edward Blum, who is spearheading the effort, has also led campaigns aimed at challenging affirmative action at a number of universities. Famously, he represented a white woman who accused the University of Texas of not admitting her because of its racial preferences.

At Harvard, Blum has argued that Asian-American applicants are at a disadvantage over peers of other ethnic backgrounds, that they have to have stronger grades and qualifications, and that they tend to score lower on subjective assessments of character.

In a statement, Blum said the organization “is disappointed that the court has upheld Harvard’s discriminatory admissions policies,” adding that, “We believe that the documents, emails, data analysis and depositions SFFA presented at trial compellingly revealed Harvard’s systematic discrimination against Asian-American applicants.”

The fight is probably far from over, as the case is likely to end up winding its way to the Supreme Court. A ruling from the nation’s highest court could, in theory, have implications not just for Asian-American students at one elite university, but for anyone affected by affirmative action policies.