Defending Diversity in Higher Education in the Supreme Court

Education, Racial Justice

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

The brief, filed in support of the respondents in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, uplifts how Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policy leads to a diverse campus that benefits all students.

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. 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.

The brief is available here.


About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to mobilize the nation’s leading lawyers as agents for change in the Civil Rights Movement. Today, the Lawyers’ Committee uses legal advocacy to achieve racial justice, fighting inside and outside the courts to ensure that Black people and other people of color have the voice, opportunity, and power to make the promises of our democracy real.

About Arnold & Porter — With nearly 1,000 lawyers practicing in 14 offices around the globe, Arnold & Porter serves clients across 40 distinct practice areas. The firm offers 100 years of renowned regulatory expertise, sophisticated litigation and transactional practices, and leading multidisciplinary offerings in the life sciences and financial services industries.

About Lawyers for Civil Rights – Lawyers for Civil Rights works with communities of color and immigrants to fight discrimination and foster equity through creative and courageous legal advocacy, education, and economic empowerment. In partnership with law firms and community allies, we provide free, life-changing legal support to individuals, families, and small businesses. We focus on impact areas that represent the front lines in today’s battle for equality and justice. LCR is headquartered in Boston. We represent clients across Massachusetts and surrounding communities—and the impact of our life-changing work ripples across the country.

About Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Americans Advancing Justice is a national affiliation of five leading organizations advocating for the civil and human rights of Asian Americans and other underserved communities to promote a fair and equitable society for all. The affiliation’s members are: Advancing Justice – AAJC (Washington, DC), Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, Advancing Justice Southern California (AJSOCAL), Advancing Justice – Atlanta, and Advancing Justice – Chicago.