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Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 15, 2015

STUDENTS FOR FAIR ADMISSIONS, INC. Plaintiff,
v.
PRESIDENT AND FELLOWS OF HARVARD COLLEGE (HARVARD CORPORATION) Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON PROPOSED DEFENDANT-INTERVENORS' MOTION TO INTERVENE

ALLISON D. BURROUGHS, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

In this action, Plaintiff Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. ("SFFA") alleges that Defendant Harvard College ("Harvard") employs racially and ethnically discriminatory policies and procedures in administering its undergraduate admissions program, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. SFFA's Complaint sets forth two types of allegations. First, SFFA asserts that the general manner in which Harvard considers race in its undergraduate admissions program violates the Equal Protection Clause. As opposed to using race as a mere "plus" factor in admissions decisions, SFFA alleges that Harvard engages in prohibited "racial balancing." Second, SFFA alleges that Harvard's policies invidiously discriminate against Asian-American applicants in particular. Because Harvard allegedly limits the number of Asian-American applicants to whom it will offer admission every year, SFFA contends that those applicants are forced to compete against each other for a limited number of openings. Consequently, a large number of otherwise highly qualified Asian-American applicants are allegedly denied admission to Harvard on the basis of their race or ethnicity.[1] Harvard denies these allegations, insists that its admissions policies fully comply with federal law, and maintains its intention to mount a vigorous defense to SFFA's claims.

Presently before the Court is a Motion to Intervene in Defense of Harvard's Admission Policy, which was filed on April 29, 2015 [ECF No. 30]. The movants and proposed intervenors are nine minority high-school students who intend to apply for admission to Harvard College at some time in the future (the "Future Applicants"), and five minority college students who are currently enrolled in Harvard's full-time undergraduate program (the "Harvard Students") (collectively, the "Students"). In contrast to SFFA, these Students support Harvard's consideration of race in its admissions process, and they seek to intervene "in order to ensure that Harvard retains the right to consider race in its admissions decisions to the full extent allowed by law." [ECF No. 31, p. 3]. For the reasons set forth herein, the Court finds that the Students do not meet the criteria for intervention as of right pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 24(a), and it declines to allow permissive intervention pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 24(b). Consequently, the Court will deny the Students' Motion to Intervene, but allow them to participate in this litigation as amici curiae.

II. RELEVANT FACTS

SFFA filed its Complaint with this Court on November 17, 2014, and Harvard filed its Answer on February 18, 2015. On May 4, 2015, the Court issued a Scheduling Order governing the timing of discovery, dispositive motions, and other matters. At this point, the case has not advanced beyond the early stages of discovery. On April 29, 2015, the Students filed their Motion to Intervene with the Court [ECF No. 30], along with a supporting Memorandum of Law [ECF No. 31]. In addition, each of the Students filed a declaration explaining their purported interest in this case [ECF No. 31-1].

The Future Applicants

Movant M.B. is a high school junior, who identifies as African American and Caucasian. Movant K.C. is a high school sophomore and identifies as a Native American. Movant Y.D. is a high school junior and a member of the Oneida Tribe. Y.D. identifies as Native American. Movant G.E. is a high school freshman and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Community. G.E. identifies as Native American. Movant A.G. is a high school junior of Hispanic and Filipino descent. Movant I.G. is a high school freshman and is also of Hispanic and Filipino descent. Movant R.H. is an African American high school junior. Movant J.L. is a high school sophomore and states that his or her tribal affiliation is Jemez Pueblo and Zuni Tribe. J.L. identifies as Native American. Movant R.S. is a high school freshman and identifies as Native American, of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

These students' declarations detail their impressive academic accomplishments, high grade-point-averages, involvement in extracurricular programs, and participation in activities related to their cultural and ethnic heritage. In addition, each student expresses a desire to experience a racially diverse environment in college, and a belief that his or her own unique cultural and ethnic background will contribute to the educational experiences of his or her peers. Further, each of these students states that he or she intends to apply for admission to Harvard's undergraduate program, and to apply for financial aid. None, however, claims to have submitted an application to Harvard at this point in time.

The Harvard Students

Movant Sarah Cole is a full-time undergraduate student at Harvard, who identifies as Black or African American. Movant Fadhal Moore is a full-time undergraduate student at Harvard and identifies as African American. Movant Arjini Kumari Nawal is full-time undergraduate student at Harvard, who identifies as Asian American, of Sri Lankan descent. Movant Itzel Libertad Vasquez-Rodriguez is a full-time undergraduate student at Harvard College. She identifies as Native American and Latina, of Mexican Ancestry. Movant Keyanna Wigglesworth is a full-time undergraduate student at Harvard, who describes her race and ethnicity as Black American. Each of these students professes to experience academic and/or personal benefits from Harvard's racially diverse student body, and each believes that his or her education would be harmed if Harvard stopped considering race in its admissions policy. Each student also states that he or she would like to see an increase in the number and diversity of underrepresented minority groups admitted to Harvard.

III. SUMMARY OF THE STUDENTS' POSITION

The Students argue that Harvard must remain free to address the underrepresentation of certain racial and ethnic minority groups in its student body, so as to secure for these students access to opportunities associated with attending Harvard. Further, the Students believe they are in the best position to advance these interests, because their educational goals, career aspirations, and life experiences would be adversely affected if Harvard were prohibited from considering race in its admissions process. They seek to intervene because they believe that Harvard may not adequately represent their interests in this litigation, for a number of reasons. First, the Students wish to emphasize certain arguments that they fear Harvard may not present to the Court. For example, the Students believe that Harvard should remain free to consider race and ethnicity in order to offset the disparate impact of certain other aspects of Harvard's admissions policy - including Harvard's consideration of so-called "legacy" applicants whose parents may have attended Harvard; the school's Early Action admissions program; and its reliance on SAT scores as a factor in admission. Each of these policies or criteria, the Students argue, has a negative impact on the admission of minority applicants. Accordingly, the Students want to argue that Harvard's continued use of race and ethnicity in its admissions process is critical to offsetting the disparate impact of such programs. And because Harvard is unlikely to concede that its own admissions policies have adverse effects on minority applicants, the Students argue that Harvard does not adequately represent their interests in this regard [ECF No. 31 pp. 4-5]. In addition, the Students claim that they will argue - and that Harvard is unlikely to argue - that achieving a "critical mass" of minority students is necessary to reduce the racial isolation of minority students on campus [ECF No. 42 p. 8].

Second, the Students suggest that Harvard's defense of its admissions procedures "may be affected by concern over its public perception or by the need to serve myriad constituencies such as alumni, faculty, and the academic community...." Essentially, the Students argue that Harvard would not be as zealous an advocate as they, and "[t]o the extent Harvard would seek to settle or would otherwise avoid politically sensitive topics, " their intervention would ensure that those arguments are presented as fully and forcefully as possible [ECF No. 31 p. 5].

Third, the Students claim that Harvard lacks the ability to defend its race-conscious admissions policy adequately because "Harvard, as an institution, does not have the personal experiences that Movants do with respect to race and ethnicity." [ECF No. 31 p. 14].

The Students argue that these considerations entitle them to intervene in this matter as of right, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 24(a). Alternatively, they argue that the Court should allow permissive intervention pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 24(b).

IV. SUMMARY OF SFFA AND HARVARD'S POSITIONS

Both SFFA and Harvard oppose the Students' full-fledged intervention in this action, and both argue that the Students are not entitled to intervene as of right under Fed.R.Civ.P. 24(a). Harvard submits that intervention is not warranted because Harvard will adequately represent the Students' interests [ECF No. 38]. SFFA agrees, and it further argues that the Students lack a "demonstrated interest" in this litigation, and that the Students' motion to intervene was not timely filed [ECF No. 37]. In addition, both parties are concerned that full-scale intervention could interfere with the expeditious and orderly resolution of this case, by adding additional parties, broadening the scope of discovery, and engendering delays. Harvard has also cited concerns for the privacy of its students and applicants, which would be exacerbated by the intervention of additional parties.

However, neither SFFA nor Harvard opposes a more limited form of participation by the Students. SFFA suggests that the Students be permitted to participate as amici curiae [ECF No. 37 pp. 9-10]. Harvard submits that if the Court permits intervention, it should limit the Students' participation to the submission of briefs, the presentation of their own declarations, and participation in any oral argument that the Court may choose to hear. ...


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