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US Justice Department Backs Lawsuit Against Harvard’s Affirmative Action Policy

The internationally renowned university uses race as an admission criteria, the lawsuit says.

The US Justice Department has expressed support for a lawsuit filed by a student activist group against Harvard University, saying the school uses affirmative action policies when deciding whom to admit.  According to the plaintiffs, the policies put Asian-American students at a significant disadvantage compared to those of other races.

For those less acquainted with the term, affirmative action policies were developed with the intention of helping to increase racial diversity in predominantly white groups through quota systems or other preferential selection criteria. Critics argue that however well meaning, affirmative action remains a form of racial discrimination. While usually it is white people who complain that affirmative action discriminates against them,  in Harvard's case, it is Asian-Americans who say they ended up losing out unfairly.

"The record evidence demonstrates that Harvard's race-based admissions process significantly disadvantages Asian-American applicants compared to applicants of other racial groups — including both white applicants and applicants from other racial minority groups," the Justice Department said in court papers Thursday.

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In a statement, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions argued that no US education institution should ever apply racially based criteria when making admission decisions.

"No American should be denied admission to school because of their race," Sessions said. "As a recipient of taxpayer dollars, Harvard has a responsibility to conduct its admissions policy without racial discrimination by using meaningful admissions criteria that meet lawful requirements… the admissions policies at our colleges and universities are important and must be conducted lawfully."

It should be noted that while the DOJ supports the lawsuit, which is expected to go all the way up to the US Supreme Court, it has not joined it as a plaintiff.

According to a report by the Los Angeles Times, the Obama administration actively encouraged affirmative action policies, something the current Justice Department has taken a less approving stance on. While the department has stated that it is acting in the interest of equality, advocates of affirmative action argue that the DOJ's new stance is hurting racial equality efforts.

"Justice Department that has fully abandoned its mission and is now waging an all-out assault on efforts to promote diversity," Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement Thursday.

"At the heart of this case is the unjustified presumption that test scores alone entitle a student admission to Harvard, and the unsupported allegation that race drives admission decisions," she added.

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Supporters of affirmative action policies argue that more diversity in schools leads to "better outcomes for students of all races," the LA Times reports. Opponents, however, state that this is just another form of discrimination.

Students for Fair Admissions, the plaintiff that filed the lawsuit against Harvard, expressed their gratitude for Sessions' intervention.

"Students for Fair Admissions is gratified that, after careful analysis of the evidence submitted in this case, the US Department of Justice has concluded Harvard's admissions policies are in violation of our nation's civil rights laws," Edward Blum, the president of the organization, said in a statement.

Harvard itself does not deny it uses race as one of factors for admissions. However, it claims this does not lead to discrimination.

"Harvard does not discriminate against applicants from any group, and will continue to vigorously defend the legal right of every college and university to consider race as one factor among many in college admissions, which the Supreme Court has consistently upheld for more than 40 years," the university Office of Public Affairs said, according to CNBC.

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