A lawsuit was filed in November 2014 by anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions alleging that Harvard admissions practices discriminate against Asian-American applicants.
In a filing yesterday in a Boston federal court, the Justice Department called on the court to make Harvard’s documents public, saying the government has a “substantial interest” in the case. Students for Fair Admissions includes over a dozen students who claim they were rejected from Harvard because the it engages in “racial balancing” by capping the number of Asian-Americans it admits each year.
According to a report in The Harvard Crimson, the university paper, the Department of Justice called for the unsealing of the admissions data, which Harvard has repeatedly argued should remain private.
The report said the department’s filing also directly tied the admissions lawsuit to its own ongoing probe into Harvard’s admissions processes, arguing that the lawsuit “overlaps” and could “directly bear” on the separate Justice Department investigation.
“This case thus overlaps with the legal and factual bases undergirding the United States’ investigation and could directly bear on that investigation,” Matthew Donnelly, a Justice Department lawyer said in the brief.
“Harvard’s proposal contravenes the law and imperils the interest of the public.”
The filing also asserts the department could later sue Harvard itself or could join the case as a “friend of the court,” depending on how the Students for Fair Admissions suit plays out. The filing calls for “public access” to all “summary judgement materials” in the case unless a party requests privacy for a “most compelling reason”.
The filing also directly urges the court to reject the University’s previous request that case-related admissions information remain private.
“To be sure, there is weighty interest in protecting the private identities of students and applicants,” the filing said. “But neither that interest nor any of Harvard’s other generalised arguments warrant adoption of Harvard’s proposal to file all summary judgment materials under seal.”
The Students for Fair Admissions lawsuit alleges that Harvard discriminates against Asian-Americans in its admissions process.
About three years after that suit began, the Department of Justice had launched an investigation into Harvard’s admissions practises to look into the allegations.
In 2015, 64 Asian-American groups, including four Indian-American organisations, had also filed a similar complaint accusing the Ivy League institution of discriminating against Asian-American applicants in its admissions process.
The 50-page complaint, submitted to the Office for Civil Rights in the US Department of Education and with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice in May, had been filed on behalf of Asian American students “who, because of their race, have been unfairly rejected by Harvard College because of such unlawful use of race in the admissions process, and/or who seek the opportunity to apply for admission without being discriminated against because of their race.”
The US Department of Education had dismissed that complaint.
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