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(Reuters) — The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday threw its support behind a lawsuit accusing Harvard University of discriminating against Asian-American applicants, saying the Ivy League school’s race-based admissions process disadvantaged them.
The department, which has been investigating Harvard for potential civil rights violations, made its argument in a brief filed in federal court in Boston in a closely watched lawsuit that is set to go to trial in October.
The Justice Department argued that Harvard had failed in the lawsuit to establish that its use of race as a factor in deciding which students to offer admissions to had not resulted in it illegally discriminating against Asian-Americans.
Instead, the department said the evidence in the lawsuit by Students for Fair Admissions demonstrated that Harvard’s admissions process “significantly disadvantages” Asian-Americans compared with other racial groups.
“No American should be denied admission to school because of their race,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.
Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Harvard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that 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 nation’s highest court rejected a high-profile challenge to a University of Texas program designed to boost the enrollment of minority students, which was brought by a white woman.
After Republican President Donald Trump took office last year, the Justice Department began investigating whether Harvard’s policies are discriminatory because they limit the acceptance of Asian-Americans.
A federal appellate court on Friday upheld a lower court ruling in favor of a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of female high school athletes in a Chula Vista, California-based school district charging violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal civil rights law that prohibits gender discrimination in education.