The Harvard Admissions Lawsuit & A Brief History of Affirmative Action in The United States

By Alexandra Kluzak

Affirmative action in the United States has been challenged in several high profile court cases since it was enacted in 1961, and today it comes under fire yet again, this time by a group of Asian American students suing Harvard University for allegedly discriminating against them and rejecting them for their race. The case has been pending since 2015 and is expected to end up in the Supreme Court.

Affirmative action was created to expand the opportunities presented to races that had been historically discriminated against. Originally, Affirmative Action consisted of “racial quotas” where an institution would designate a specific number of slots to one race. In 1978, Allen Bakke sued the University of California claiming that he was rejected over a less-qualified minority student because of the university’s racial quota. Allen Bakke won his lawsuit, as the Supreme Court declared that racial quotas defy the equal protection clause and the Civil Rights Act. At the same time, Justice Lewis F. Powell, decreed that a diverse student body was beneficial to the education of all, and allowed the state to continue to consider the race of applicants. In addition, the supreme court has consistently upheld that race can be used as one deciding factor for an applicant and that educational institutes can be“racially conscious” in their admissions process.

Edward Blum, a conservative legal strategist who is president of Students For Fair Admissions, the organization currently suing Harvard, has attempted to end Affirmative Actions in previous lawsuits. In 2016, Blum selected a white University of Texas rejected, Abigail Fisher, to decree Affirmative Action unconstitutional. The case, which also found its way to the Supreme Court, was decided at a 4-3 vote, the court ruling that a schools should be “given reasonable leeway in its review process if it has considered other ways to create diversity.” In his latest attempt to end Affirmative Action, Blum claims that it was created to “punish better qualified individuals and pit Americans against one another.”

In the courthouse, a Students For Fair Admissions Lawyer Adam Mortara, argued that Asian Americans are discriminated against in interviews as they tended to receive lower personality ratings than blacks and hispanics. Mortara claimed that Harvard, “may quite well have fallen prey to racial stereotyping.”As a response to Mortara, Harvard’s lawyers William Lee and Seth Waxman questioned why he had not produced a witness claiming that they had been wrongly rejected from Harvard. Lee and Waxman went on to say that race was one of the many factors that admissions officers, as a few had testified, considered in a holistic review. Lee and Waxmen claimed that diversity benefits the entire Harvard Community.

Judge Burroughs is expected make her ruling in a few months, and whatever it is, it is expected to be appealed. Students For Fair Admissions vs. Harvard University will be a landmark decision as it carries implications for schools around the country that consider race in their admissions process.

Works Cited:

Kramer, Margaret. “A Timeline of Key Supreme Court Cases on Affirmative Action.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 30 Mar. 2019,

“Affirmative Action Lawsuit against Harvard in Judge’s Hands.”, NBCUniversal News Group,,

“Why Is This Man Fighting for the Rights of Asian-Americans?” South China Morning Post, 15 Oct. 2018,

Act, Patriot. “Affirmative Action | Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj | Netflix.” YouTube, YouTube, 28 Oct. 2018,