Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College: What the Federal District Court Said and What It Can Mean for Postsecondary Institutions that Consider Race in Admissions

Published January 2020
by Art Coleman and Jamie Lewis Keith

On September 30, 2019, the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts rendered a decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard. The plaintiff in that case (Students for Fair Admissions) challenged Harvard's admissions policies and practices designed to advance its diversity goals as unlawfully discriminatory under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race and national origin by recipients of federal funds. The district court addressed and rejected four claims of discrimination raised by the plaintiff ultimately finding in favor of Harvard. SFFA has appealed that decision. In the immediate wake of the decision, the Access & Diversity Collaborative published Takeaways from the District Court Decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard: A Preliminary Analysis (Oct. 4, 2019) to provide an initial analysis of the court's decision. This guidance supplements that publication by providing additional detail and analysis. In addition to a summary of the decision, this supplemental overview provides:

  1. A summary of the relevant 40-year legal precedent that informed the district court's ruling.
  2. A detailed analysis of the court's decision on all key substantive issues, with a segment that distills and analyzes the approximate 40 pages of analysis regarding the competing statistical models and conclusions pressed by the parties.
  3. Major takeaways from the district court's decision, along with implications for action-issue-specific practical tips that correspond with court conclusions to highlight key areas of prospective institutional attention.