By Joan Biskupic
In recent months, Harvard University has come under attack in court for allegedly limiting the number of Asian-American students it admits. A Reuters examination reveals how the lawsuit brought in their name arose from a broader goal: upending a nearly 40-year-old Supreme Court decision that has primarily helped blacks and Hispanics.
A civil rights group representing African American and other minority students has recently filed papers seeking to enter the case, arguing they are the “real targets.” They say that if the lawsuit succeeds, the consequences for blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans would be “catastrophic,” and they cannot rely on Harvard to represent their interests.
The lawsuit was not initiated by Asian Americans. It names none in its 120 pages.
Rather, it was started by a conservative advocate, Edward Blum, who over the years has enlisted white plaintiffs to challenge race-based policies. He developed the case that two years ago led to a Supreme Court decision narrowing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Last week the justices accepted another voting-related case he started, one that could shift voting power from urban, Hispanic districts to rural, whiter areas in Texas.
Blum launched the Harvard case after a prior high-profile effort to overturn university racial preferences foundered. For the earlier case, he had encouraged the daughter of a friend, Abigail Fisher, to sue the University of Texas for allegedly discriminating against her under a diversity policy that favored blacks and Hispanics with lower scores. The Supreme Court rejected the argument in 2013, although it sent the case back for further hearings, and a new appeal is pending at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Even some advocates for Asian Americans agree with the claim of the civil rights group that Blum is going to wind up hurting blacks and Hispanics. Betty Hung, a spokeswoman for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a civil rights group that contends race-conscious policies have broadly benefited its constituents, says Blum is using Asian Americans “for another misguided attack on affirmative action.”