Harvard Sued Over Legacy Admissions After Activists Angered By Affirmative Action Ruling
Cambridge, MA - July 1: A Harvard student holds a sign during a rally protesting the Supreme Courts ruling against affirmative action.
Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Civil rights activists angered by the Supreme Court striking down affirmative action in college admissions are suing Harvard over legacy admissions, arguing the practice gives mostly white children of wealthy alumni an advantage over minorities. 

After the high court ruled against the race-based admissions policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina last week, Lawyers for Civil Rights, a Boston nonprofit, filed a lawsuit Monday on behalf of the black and Latino communities in New England, alleging Harvard’s legacy admissions violate the Civil Rights Act, the Associated Press reported.  

“Why are we rewarding children for privileges and advantages accrued by prior generations?” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, the executive director at Lawyers for Civil Rights. “Your family’s last name and the size of your bank account are not a measure of merit, and should have no bearing on the college admissions process.”

From 2014-2019, Harvard had an acceptance rate of 6% but enrolled 33% of legacy applicants and nearly 47% of applicants who were children of faculty or staff. Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons defended the long-lasting practice in March, saying legacy status gives students a “slight tip” in the admissions process.  

Those who supported affirmative action argued that the race-based admissions policy helped counterbalance the Ivy League school’s legacy admissions, which critics say gives preference to the wealthy elite. A bipartisan chorus of politicians, including President Joe Biden and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), have called for an end to legacy admissions after the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action. 

Biden urged universities to rethink legacy admissions, arguing that they “expand privilege instead of opportunity.” 

During an appearance on Fox News, Sen. Scott criticized admissions policies that he says give “preferential treatment” to certain people.

“I think the question is how do you continue to create a culture where education is the goal for every single part of our community?” Scott asked. “One of the things that Harvard could do to make that even better is to eliminate any legacy programs where they have preferential treatment for legacy kids, not allow for the professors — their kids to come to Harvard as well.”


Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch also targeted legacy admissions in a concurring opinion after voting with conservatives against affirmative action, saying the process “undoubtedly benefit[s] white and wealthy applicants the most.”

“Its preferences for the children of donors, alumni, and faculty are no help to applicants who cannot boast of their parents’ good fortune or trips to the alumni tent all their lives,” Gorsuch wrote. 

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