BOSTON, Sept 16 (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on
Wednesday appeared skeptical of arguments that Harvard
discriminates against Asian-American applicants, a claim made in
a closely-watched lawsuit challenging the use of race as a
factor in U.S. college admissions.
Members of a three-judge 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
panel in Boston questioned why it should conclude a trial judge
wrongly rejected the claims by Students for Fair Admissions
(SFFA), a nonprofit founded by anti-affirmative action activist
Conservatives have long criticized affirmative action. Legal
experts say the case could go to the U.S. Supreme Court, giving
its conservative majority a chance to reconsider past decisions
that allowed race to be considered as a factor in admissions.
Blum's group, which counts Asian-American applicants as
members and has President Donald Trump administration's support,
contends the Ivy League school engaged in impermissible "racial
balancing" to benefit other preferred minority groups, such as
Blacks and Hispanics.
SFFA lawyer William Consovoy argued that despite high
academic scores, Asian Americans were admitted a lower rates
than other groups because of racial stereotyping by admissions
officers who gave them low "personal" rating scores.
Consovoy asked the court to consider how it would evaluate
such low scores if they were given to well-qualified Black
applicants for police or firefighting jobs.
"I think this court would be skeptical or concerned that
this was discrimination and not that African American
firefighters or police officers actually had worse personal
qualities," he said.
A U.S. Justice Department lawyer, Eric Dreiband, argued that
Harvard in adopting its admissions system gave "no serious
consideration of race-neutral alternatives."
But their arguments faced questions from panelists including
U.S. Circuit Judge Juan Torruella, who asked "what is the
evidence of racial profiling here?"
Seth Waxman, Harvard's lawyer, argued that a "mountain of
evidence" showed it did not intentionally discriminate against
He urged the court to uphold U.S. District Judge Allison
Burroughs, who last year ruled Harvard had no "workable and
available race-neutral alternatives" to ensure a diverse student
U.S. Circuit Judge Sandra Lynch during the arguments pointed
to past Supreme Court rulings that allow universities to
consider race as one factor to remedy disadvantages minority
students have faced because of racial prejudice.
"Harvard can in fact consider other things than merely class
ranking and the academic achievements of the Asian-American
applicants," she said.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston
Editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool)