Biden Administration Backs Harvard in Admissions Lawsuit


The Biden administration backed Harvard’s race-conscious admissions process in a brief filed to the Supreme Court Wednesday, recommending that the Court reject an appeal challenging the use of affirmative action in the school’s admissions process.

The U.S. Solicitor General, Elizabeth B. Prelogar, asked the Court to deny a petition filed by the anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions, which has argued in a seven-year-old lawsuit that Harvard’s race-conscious admissions processes violate federal law.

The Supreme Court requested input on the case from the Biden administration in June, inviting Prelogar to file a brief outlining the federal government’s view on the case.

Prelogar wrote in the brief that the lower courts that ruled in favor of Harvard applied Supreme Court precedent correctly, and that SFFA’s arguments do not warrant overruling precedent.


“The court of appeals correctly applied this Court’s precedents, and its decision neither conflicts with any decision of another court of appeals nor otherwise satisfies this Court’s certiorari standards,” she wrote.

Prelogar wrote that the case would be a “poor vehicle” for reconsidering the Supreme Court’s 2003 landmark ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the Court ruled the use of race in higher education admissions practices is constitutional.

Harvard spokesperson Rachael Dane wrote in an emailed statement that the University “strongly agrees” the lower courts’ rulings do not warrant further review.

“The United States rightly reaffirms that all universities, including Harvard, should have the freedom and flexibility to consider race, as one factor among many, to create the diverse campus communities essential to their educational missions and to the success of their students in the workplace and the world,” Dane wrote.

“Now is not the time to reverse the unequivocal decisions of two federal courts reinforcing 40 years of Supreme Court precedent,” she added.

SFFA President Edward J. Blum said in a statement Wednesday that the solicitor general’s brief “regrettably advocates for the continuation of racial classifications and preferences in college admissions.”

“It is to be hoped that the Supreme Court accepts the Harvard and University of North Carolina cases and ends the polarizing, unfair and unconstitutional use of race in college admissions,” Blum said.

SFFA has requested that the Supreme Court hear the case against Harvard alongside a similar lawsuit that it filed against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

SFFA first filed suit against Harvard in 2014, arguing that Harvard’s race-conscious admissions practices discriminate against Asian Americans and violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans institutions that receive federal funds from discriminating “on the grounds of race, color, or national origin.” The Massachusetts District Court ruled in favor of Harvard in October 2019, and the First Circuit affirmed the ruling in November 2020.

Under the Trump administration, the Department of Justice filed a brief backing SFFA’s case before the First Circuit.

SFFA filed the petition requesting the Supreme Court hear the case on Feb. 25, and Harvard filed its brief in opposition on May 17.

—Staff writer Vivi E. Lu can be reached at