ADL Backs Harvard in Lawsuit Challenging Race-based Admissions Policies

Anti-Defamation League argues against claim that the university's treatment of Asian-American applicants is similar to the discrimination it previously practiced against Jews

Penny Schwartz
Penny Schwartz

The Anti-Defamation League is supporting Harvard University in its effort to beat back a high-profile legal challenge to the school’s race-conscious admissions policies.

In an amicus brief filed May 21 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit, the ADL argued against a claim by Students for Fair Admissions that Harvard’s treatment of Asian-American applicants is similar to the discrimination it practiced against Jews in the early decades of the 20th century.

The court is considering whether to uphold a landmark decision last fall by a lower court that upheld the Ivy League school’s admissions practices, finding they do not discriminate against Asian Americans.

Students for Fair Admissions filed its appeal in February reasserting its comparison of Harvard’s current admission practices to those that once limited the number of Jews.

In a May 22 news release announcing its brief in support of Harvard, the ADL disputed the assertion.

“The lack of evidence of racial animus, intent to discriminate, or imposition of quotas by Harvard distinguish the college’s current admissions practices from those during the 1920s and 1930s, which were motivated by antisemitism and designed to decrease Jewish enrollment,” said Joe Berman, chair of ADL’s national legal affairs committee.

The case, first brought in 2014, seeks to broadly undermine race-based affirmative action policies at the nation’s universities and has high-profile backers on both sides. The Trump administration filed an amicus brief in support of the Students for Fair Admissions appeal, while the Harvard Crimson reports that the lower court decision is supported by the other seven Ivy League colleges, attorneys general from 15 states and the District of Columbia, as well as large corporations including Apple and Microsoft.

Students for Fair Admissions was founded by the conservative Jewish legal activist Edward Blum. In its appeal, the group said it would carry the case as far as the U.S. Supreme Court.

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