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Students for Fair Admissions vs. Harvard University

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is representing a multiracial and multiethnic group of Harvard students and alumni, and prospective students, who are defending the university’s right to consider race as one of many factors in the admissions process. The anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions claims the policy unlawfully discriminates against Asian American applicants.

If we fail to have racially diverse and inclusive campuses and classrooms, then we will only be aiding the systemic racism and structural inequality that exists in this country. Race touches every part of these students’ lives, and a color blind admissions policy is counter-productive to creating an environment that is representative of the world surrounding us.
David Hinojosa

Director, Educational Opportunities Project

Case Timeline and Key Documents

November 12, 2020

The First Circuit rules in a 2-0 decision that Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policy must be upheld. The court found that Harvard’s policy is consistent with Supreme Court precedent for diversity requirements, and concluded that the race-neutral alternatives presented by SFFA were not sufficientThe opinion cites supporting testimony and evidence from students in rendering its decision. 

September 16, 2020

The national Lawyers’ Committee participates in oral arguments before the First Circuit on behalf of the diverse group of prospective, current, and former Harvard students. The national Lawyers’ Committee and students defend Harvard’s right to consider race in admissions to promote diversity and equal opportunity. 

June 3, 2020

Students file a motion seeking to participate in oral argument before the First Circuit.  On July 31, 2020, the First Circuits grants the motion, along with motions filed by the NAACP-LDF and the United States of America.  

May 18, 2020

 Students file their amicus brief in support of Harvard in the First Circuit, demonstrating how critical testimony and evidence presented by students demonstrated how Harvard’s interest in student body diversity is compelling, necessary and lawful. 

May 14, 2020

Harvard files an appellees’ response brief in the First Circuit. 

February 28, 2020

SFFA files its appellant’s brief in the First Circuit. 

October 2019

Following the district court’s decision, SFFA immediately files an appeal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.  

September 30, 2019

Judge Burroughs finds that Harvard did not intentionally discriminate against Asian American applicants, did not engage in racial balancing, and the university’s race-conscious admissions policy was narrowly tailored and necessary to achieve the benefits of a diverse student body. Judge Burroughs’ opinion repeatedly cites the students and alumni testimony, and conclusively finds racial diversity produces vital benefits at Harvard, and that racial identity is critical for fairly evaluating highly-talented students of all backgrounds. 

February 13, 2019

The national Lawyers’ Committee delivers post-trial closing arguments.  

October 2018

A three-week trial is held before Judge Burroughs in Boston’s federal district court. The students presented opening arguments, closing arguments, and offered direct testimony from four witnesses. The students testifabout how Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policy has led to increased diversity at the university, enriches the educational environment for all students, and better prepares all students to thrive in an increasingly multi-ethnic society. The students are joined by student alumni groups represented by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. 

September 28, 2018

The trial court judge denies summary judgment and orders the case to go to trial. 

August 31, 2018

The students file a motion to participate in trial, which is scheduled for October.  

July 30, 2018

The students submit an amicus brief and declarations in support of Harvard’s motion for summary judgment. The students affirm that ethno-racial diversity produces distinct benefits, which are educational, personal and professional; explain how Harvard’s current affirmative consideration of race complies with the parameters set forth by the Supreme Court- it is individualized, flexibly appreciates all forms of diversity, and does not treat race as a predominant factor; and affirm that Harvard’s vested interest in promoting greater representation of, and diversity within, students of color compel the continued consideration of race. 

April 9, 2018

The students submit a letter to the court, asking the court to discuss the treatment of confidential information. The students ask the court to seal all information that would make the students personally identifiable, until further notice.  

October 31, 2017

The national Lawyers’ Committee extends the coalition of students it is representing to include Asian American and Pacific Islander students. Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC joins the case as co-counsel. 

October 19, 2016

The students submit an amicus brief in support of Harvard’s motion to dismiss.


June 15, 2015

The district court denies the students full intervention, but grants them enhanced “amicus plus” status. They are permitted to submit briefs, participate in oral arguments, submit personal declarations and affidavits, and will be allowed to file a motion to participate in the trial proceedings if the case proceeds to trial.   

April 29, 2015

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Lawyers’ for Civil Rights and pro bono counsel from Arnold & Porter file a motion to intervene in the case, on behalf of a group of multi-racial and multi-ethnic Harvard students and prospective students. These students identify as Black, Latinx, and Native American. 

November 17, 2014

Anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum and his organization, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), files a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Boston Division against Harvard University’s race-conscious admissions policy. The lawsuit claims the race-conscious admissions policy unlawfully discriminates against Asian American applicants, and violates Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It also seeks to overturn 40 years of legal precedent. SFFA ultimately looks to ban Harvard and other colleges from considering—or even knowing—the race of its applicants.