Rachel Kleinman, senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which will be arguing in support of Harvard’s admissions policies before the appeals court next month, said she was “shocked but not surprised” by the Justice Department’s finding.
“This particular Department of Justice has been laser-focused on ending affirmative action,” she said, adding that she believed the department’s finding was “a foregone conclusion before they started their investigation.”
Despite the district court judge’s rejection of similar arguments in the Harvard case, she said, “They’re sticking with the analysis that any use of race is racism and insidious.”
The Ivy League schools are unapologetic about their use of race and ethnicity as a factor in admissions. On the contrary, the system the Trump administration is attacking is one that Yale, Harvard and others point to with pride, and that has become a national model.
Harvard has argued in a district court brief that while it sets no quotas, if it wants to achieve true diversity, it must pay some attention to the numbers of students it admits of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. The university has also said that abandoning race-conscious admissions would diminish the “excellence” of a Harvard education.
Likewise, Yale officials say that there is nothing mechanical about the school’s admissions process. They read 35,000 applications a year in their entirety, and race is one of hundreds of data points, they said. The university noted that of the students who enrolled last fall, 26 percent were Asian-American.
The Supreme Court over the years has generally upheld the principle behind affirmative action, within limits, including as recently as 2016. In a 1978 decision, Justice Lewis F. Powell articulated the rationale for efforts to improve academic diversity, writing, “A farm boy from Idaho can bring something to Harvard College that a Bostonian cannot offer. Similarly, a black student can usually bring something that a white person cannot offer.”