Blunder in Affirmative Action Case May Cost Harvard $15 Million
A new legal argument about affirmative action may cost Harvard $15 million and have other repercussions, according to two lawyers representing the university and six black students who are suing for their right to enroll at Harvard. The argument is that Harvard discriminated based on race when it set up and enforced a race-conscious program beginning in 1971. The six students argue that they are being denied admission to Harvard University because the university and its lawyers misinterpreted a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision about the First Amendment. The Supreme Court said in that case that laws that take race into account in hiring decisions are unconstitutional if the laws are directed at “racial” classifications. The lawsuit was filed in state court in Boston, Massachusetts. The suit wants the court to declare Harvard’s admissions policy illegal, nullify the admissions policy, and order Harvard to reopen the admissions process to allow the plaintiffs to be admitted.
UCLA’s Legal Defense Fund is among the sponsors of the lawsuit. The fund and other groups are supporting the lawsuit against Harvard because, the foundation says, the case, which originated in a class action against Harvard University, could have widespread ramifications for the University’s entire admissions policy.
“We know that our success in the case means more than just this school,” Robert Jackson, a partner at the Boston law firm Perkins Coie and former professor at Harvard Law School, told Newsday. “This is a school and a place that is already under assault to the extent that Harvard’s admissions program is being challenged through the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice and is under attack by the NAACP.”
Under the 1972 court decision, the Supreme Court in 1967 struck down the University of California’s admissions policies because of a “whiteness”-preference system that gave preference to blacks and those classified as “white” over others. As Harvard had not yet adopted a rule giving preference to minorities, the Supreme Court gave the school the right to develop a program that would be allowed to “affirm” minority students.
On Monday, Harvard said it would not defend the lawsuit. The law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell defended the school, which argues that the lawsuit is a “