"That's what they want," said Anderson, formerly general counsel at Vanderbilt University, of those going up against race-conscious admissions. "They want it to go to the Supreme Court because the justices who upheld affirmative action are not on the court anymore."
Alison Kjergaard, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, didn't return an email seeking comment on the Yale and Harvard disputes.
Amid the flurry of court papers, a July study by the Education Trust, which advocates for educational opportunities for disadvantaged students, found that African Americans and Latinos continue to be underrepresented at 101 of the country's top public universities and that their representation has even regressed in many instances over the past two decades.
"I know that there's folks who are against affirmative action, of all backgrounds," who believe "that we are there, and it's not needed, and maybe there's even some over-representation or over-emphasis on race that we need to correct for," said Tiffany Jones, senior director of education policy at the Trust. That perception, she said, "is contradicted by the data and the research and the information about who has access to higher education."
In deciding for Harvard last year, U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs found that the university didn't set quotas or give undue consideration to race when reviewing applicants, but instead weighed race as one of more than 200 factors including a student's socioeconomic background, area of study and letters of recommendation. Burroughs concluded there was no practical "race-neutral" alternative, as Blum's group had proposed, to Harvard's holistic admissions process in shaping a diverse class.
The evidence in the Harvard case "compellingly proved Harvard's systematic discrimination against Asian-American applicants," Blum said in an email. "We assert the district court erred in its analysis of this evidence and, surprisingly, virtually ignored Harvard's own internal studies" that his group said showed bias.
Meanwhile, the shot across Yale's bow may be Trump's way of encouraging a high-court review, Anderson said.
"Students for Fair Admissions is being strategic," she said, "and the Department of Justice is now helping them."
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