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Maura Healey, other AGs file legal brief supporting Harvard admissions policies

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and her counterparts in more than a dozen states filed a friend of the court brief Thursday supporting Harvard University’s consideration of race in admissions, as the university prepares to defend itself in federal appeals court.

Students for Fair Admissions turned to the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in October after US District Court Judge Allison D. Burroughs ruled that while Harvard could improve its admissions process with more training and monitoring, it is legally sound and uses race in a narrow way.

The organization — led by affirmative action opponent Edward Blum — had argued that Harvard discriminated against Asian-American applicants, who were consistently given low scores on personal traits, such as kindness and leadership, by admissions staff.

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When Burroughs ruled that Harvard’s policies met legal standards, civil rights groups, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, applauded the finding.

Healey and the other attorneys general — including those from California, New York, Maine, and Rhode Island — ask the appeals court to affirm Burroughs’ decision.

“It’s never been more important that our students — our future leaders and public servants — come from every racial, ethnic, and economic background, and that they have the opportunity to learn from each other in a diverse educational setting,” Healey said in a statement issued by her office.

“This is not the time to turn back the clock on the progress that has been made by colleges and universities to attain meaningfully diverse student bodies,” Healey continued. “We need greater diversity to overcome systemic inequities and to strengthen our society, our democracy, and our economy.”

The brief argues that “admissions policies that take race into account among other dimensions of diversity” help to ensure “that our students obtain the educational benefits of diversity.”

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Diversity among the student population, the attorneys general argue, provides educational benefits that prepare students to be successful and helps ensure that future leaders and other professionals will represent varied backgrounds.

“Our colleges and universities must provide students with an education that prepares them to work in an increasingly diverse country and a multicultural, global economy, and to participate in our democracy, including as voters, civic leaders, and public servants,” the brief says. “Today, such an education requires the benefits that come from learning amidst a diverse student body bringing diverse experiences, perspectives, and ideas to the classroom and daily life of the school.”


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.