Civil Rights Lawyers File Supreme Court Brief Supporting Affirmative Action on Behalf Of Harvard Students and Alumni

The brief uplifts how Harvard's race-conscious admissions policy leads to a diverse campus that benefits all students.
For Immediate Release
Michelle Boykins (202) 296-2300, ext. 0144

WASHINGTON–Today, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC on behalf of the Asian Americans Advancing Justice affiliation, Arnold & Porter, and Lawyers for Civil Rights, filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policy. 

The brief, filed on behalf of a group of Harvard students and alumni, is in support of the respondents who support holistic admissions in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, which was previously consolidated with Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Together, these cases are poised to determine the future of America’s affirmative action policies in both public and private universities, with potential implications in other contexts as well. 

“Affirmative action appropriately widens the lens to identify merit, talent, and potential. That doesn’t just benefit students of color who have been systematically denied equitable access to higher education—it benefits students from all backgrounds. The voices and experiences of our diverse group of clients—Harvard students and alumni—make that clear, and also demonstrate why affirmative action is still needed,” said Damon Hewitt, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“Gutting affirmative action will have an immediate impact on how many students like me get to attend one of the most well-resourced universities in the world. If we eliminate Harvard’s race-conscious admissions, the number of highly qualified Black, Latinx, Native American, Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students would plummet by almost half, while the number of white students in each freshman class increases annually. Harvard’s future student bodies, and the thousands of talented applicants of color that apply to be a part of it, deserve a campus that is even more  enriching and racially diverse than when I attended, not less,” said Sarah Cole, a Black American Harvard alumna who graduated in 2016.

The brief uplifts the uniquely valuable perspectives of the student and alumni amici, who were granted special amici-plus status and presented testimony at trial, can speak firsthand about the importance of considering race in Harvard’s admissions process. Their testimony affirms that a racially diverse student body leads to a broader world perspective, improved cross-racial understanding, and a reduced sense of isolation for people of color.

“I refuse to be weaponized against other students of color who face institutional barriers to higher education. The full breadth of our identities cannot be captured in a race-blind application. By considering race–among countless other factors–Harvard ensures a campus that brings together applicants from a myriad of backgrounds and experiences, to the benefit of all students,” said Sally Chen, a Chinese American Harvard alumna who graduated in 2019.

“All students benefit from race-conscious admissions policies, including Asian American students,” said Eri Andriola, Litigation Staff Attorney at Advancing Justice – AAJC. “From providing an enriching and diverse learning environment to increasing access to educational opportunities, holistic admissions programs help address systemic and racial barriers to education that continue to impact students of color while preparing the next generation of leaders for success in our increasingly diverse workforce and society.”

There has also been overwhelming support from leading American corporations who have filed amicus briefs in support of Harvard today. These supporters include Google, General Motors, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Verizon, American Express, Merck, Johnson and Johnson, Paramount, Salesforce, Starbucks, and Levi Strauss, among others. Other notable supporting amicus briefs were filed by Members of Congress, universities, student organizations, teachers' unions and educators, and other major civil rights organizations.

 Arnold & Porter partner Elisabeth S. Theodore said, “Arnold & Porter is proud to have represented these exceptional Harvard students from trial all the way to the Supreme Court and to support the broader effort to ensure that public and private universities can continue to enroll diverse student bodies.”  

"Race-conscious admissions allow our schools to create vibrant, inclusive student bodies that bridge racial divides and cultivate greater cross-cultural understanding,” said Oren Sellstrom, Litigation Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston. “In today’s increasingly global economy, such diversity is critical for innovation and success,” he added.