Harvard admissions data can be filed under seal in bias case: judge

FILE PHOTO: People walk past Harvard University t-shirts for sale in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., November 16, 2012. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi/File Photo

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) - Documents related to Harvard University's admissions process may be filed initially under seal in a lawsuit accusing the Ivy League school of discriminating against Asian-American applicants, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.

However, U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs in Boston warned lawyers for Harvard and a non-profit suing the college that they should limit how much court filings are redacted and said she would review them to see if more should be made public.

Students for Fair Admissions Inc (SFFA), which filed the lawsuit in 2014, had said records related to Harvard's admissions rates and processes would be used for a motion seeking to have Burroughs rule in its favor without a trial.

It opposed a request by Harvard to file an unredacted motion initially under seal, saying court papers in the case should be publicly accessible.

Burroughs, though, said "almost certainly" some of the confidential Harvard documents should be kept under seal. She said she hoped the parties could avoid the need for redactions that would lead to "pages and pages of blackness on the record."

"The presumption is the information is openly available," Borroughs said. "You don't need to put the recipe Coke into a motion, but you can allude to the fact that there is a recipe for Coke."

Borroughs directed SFFA to file two versions of its motion, one redacting information the parties could not agree should be made public and a sealed version for her to review. She also scheduled a trial tentatively for October.

"We're very happy there's going to be a prompt trial," William Lee, Harvard's lawyer, said outside of court.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled universities may use affirmative action to help minority applicants get into college. Conservatives have said such programs can hurt white people and Asian-Americans.

In 2016 the court rejected a high-profile challenge to a University of Texas program designed to boost the enrollment of minority students that was brought by a white woman.

SFFA's president, Edward Blum, is a prominent anti-affirmative action activist who identified the plaintiff in the University of Texas case.

Following the election of Republican President Donald Trump, the Justice Department began investigating whether Harvard's policies are discriminatory because they limit the acceptance of Asian-Americans.

The Justice Department on Friday filed papers opposing Harvard's request to have records in the case be filed under seal.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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