Circuit Court Upholds Race Preferences in Admissions

David Acevedo

Editor's Note: This article was originally published under the name "John David," the former pseudonym of NAS Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To learn more about why David no longer writes under this name, click here.


CounterCurrent: Week of 11/15

The Harvard v. Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) saga continues, this time with a decision handed down by the First Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday. Two of the three judges who heard the case, Jeffrey R. Howard and Sandra L. Lynch, ruled in favor of Harvard (the third, Juan R. Torruella, died in late October) and concluded in their opinion that “There was no error” in Harvard’s admissions processes. “Asian Americans were not illegally discriminated against,” they claim.

Howard and Lynch join Allison D. Burroughs, the Massachusetts District Judge who sided with Harvard just over a year ago, in upholding racial preferences in college admissions. After SFFA’s appeal of Burroughs' 2019 decision, the National Association of Scholars went on to file an amicus curiae brief in their support. The Department of Justice joined us.

Responses to the latest ruling have been rather predictable. According to Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed

Edward Blum, president of Students for Fair Admissions … said, “While we are disappointed with the opinion of the First Circuit Court of Appeals, our hope is not lost. This lawsuit is now on track to go up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where we will ask the justices to end these unfair and unconstitutional race-based admissions policies at Harvard and all colleges and universities.”

Harvard president Lawrence S. Bacow said, “ … The consideration of race, alongside many other factors, helps us achieve our goal of creating a student body that enriches the education of every student. Diversity also represents a pathway for excellence for both Harvard and the nation. We will continue to defend these principles and our admissions process all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.”

The circuit court’s decision is a win-win for Harvard and a lose-lose for SFFA. First, the court affirmed the legitimacy of Harvard’s so-called “holistic admissions process,” writing that “Harvard has demonstrated that it values all types of diversity, not just racial diversity.” We note that “all types of diversity” may be code for more discrimination (based on sex, national origin, sexuality, etc.), not less. 

At the same time, the court disagreed with SFFA’s argument that Harvard has a quota for Asian-American admits: “The amount by which the share of admitted Asian American applicants fluctuates is greater than the amount by which the share of Asian American applicants fluctuates. This is also true for Hispanic and African American applicants. It is the opposite of what one would expect if Harvard imposed a quota. … The district court properly concluded that Harvard does not utilize quotas and does not engage in racial balancing.”

For more details on the circuit court’s ruling, check out Jaschik’s full breakdown for IHE.

In response to the district court’s ruling last year, NAS President Peter Wood said plainly “Race should play no role in college admissions. Colleges and universities should concern themselves with life of the mind, not the color of their students’ skin.” We stand by this principle and hope that SFFA appeals their case once again, this time to the Supreme Court. Should they do so, they will have our full support.


CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’  weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Caroline Culler, Public Domain

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