Affirmative action.  Justices Alito, Roberts clashed with Harvard’s lawyer

Affirmative action. Justices Alito, Roberts clashed with Harvard’s lawyer

Affirmative action. Justices Alito, Roberts clashed with Harvard’s lawyer

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito was noticeably frustrated with Harvard lawyer Seth Waxman on Monday during a case over Harvard’s affirmative action admissions policy.

On Monday, the Supreme Court heard two affirmative action cases involving college admissions, one involving Harvard and another heard earlier in the day against college admissions. University of North Carolina. A group called Students for Fair Admissions brought both cases.

Alito pressed Waxman on the “individual score,” which is assigned to prospective Harvard students in the admissions process and often ranks Asian students lower than those of other races. But Waxman didn’t directly answer Alito’s questions, causing Alito to become irritated with the lawyer.

“You are referring to a personal assessment. And that’s the score Harvard gives based on character traits like integrity, courage, kindness, and compassion. But the record shows that Asian student applicants receive the lowest personal scores of any other group,” Alito said. . “What is the reason for this?”

Affirmative action.  Justices Alito, Roberts clashed with Harvard’s lawyer

Justice Samuel Alito got frustrated with a Harvard lawyer during an oral argument on affirmative action in college admissions Monday.
(Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool, File)


“It has to be one of two things,” Alito continued. “It must be that they really lack the same degree of integrity, courage, kindness, and compassion as students of other races. Or something is wrong, this personal assessment is wrong.”

Waxman began citing a 1983 study on females graduate school applicants. But Alito cut him off and asked Waxman the same question again.

Waxman responded with a meandering response in which he said extracurricular ratings and academic rankings for Asian Americans are generally higher at Harvard. He also said: “The only model that could be built to figure out what goes into a personal rating could not look at almost everything that admissions officers look at in those ratings… There is no way it can model what a guidance counselor is. they said the letters, they said the teacher’s letters, the interviewers’ letters.”

Harvard’s attorney also objected to the fact that the numbers cited by Alito did not include athletes, legacies, members of the dean’s list of interests and the children of Harvard employees. Asian members of those groups, he said, fared better.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts told the Harvard Advocate on Monday "we didn't have a civil war over oboe players."

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts told the Harvard Lawyer on Monday that “we have not waged a civil war over oboe players.”
(Julia Nichinson-Pool/Getty Images)


But Alito wasn’t satisfied, saying he needed a fuller explanation.

“I have yet to hear any explanation for the disparity between the personal scores given to Asians. They rank below the whites. They’re way below Hispanics and they’re really way below African-Americans,” Alito said. “What is the explanation for that?”

Waxman replied on reference to the lower courtwhich stated that “there is no credible evidence to support the proposed improper discrimination.”

“I’ll try one more time,” Alito replied, apparently frustrated. “The district court found, quote, “a statistically significant and negative association between Asian American identity and personal ratings assigned by Harvard admissions officers.”


Waxman agreed, but insisted that “the recording will not allow for a full explanation of this.” He reiterated that the court did not find a specific explanation for why the number of Asian applicants was poor and downplayed the role of personal scores in final admissions. Alito tried to ask the question again, but Waxman kept talking. Eventually, Roberts had to step in and tell Waxman to stop talking so Alito could speak.

“I’m sorry, I’m not trying to make you angry,” Waxman replied.

Harvard University's affirmative action policy, which covers admissions race, is under Supreme Court review.

Harvard University’s affirmative action policy, which covers admissions race, is under Supreme Court review.
(Michael Fein/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Addressing the significance of personal points, Alito asked, “does it make a difference or not?” Waxman responded by saying it didn’t make much difference.

Roberts then began questioning Waxman, and the pair soon raised their voices at each other. Roberts argued that by including race as a factor in Harvard admissions, in some cases it could be the factor that determines whether or not a student gets in.

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Waxman acknowledged that this is the case with “some highly qualified applicants,” just as “being an oboist in a year when the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra needs an oboist” can determine admission.

“We didn’t fight a civil war over oboe players,” Roberts countered. “We really fought a civil war to eliminate racial discrimination as a significant concern.”

The case is likely to be decided before the Supreme Court’s current term ends in late June or early July 2023. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson recused himself from the case because he was a member of Harvard University’s Board of Overseers before his confirmation earlier this year. Jackson participated in the University of North Carolina case.

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