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This case could have far-reaching consequences for the use of affirmative action in college admissions.

On Friday, the Justice Department lent its support to Asian American students who are suing Harvard University over affirmative action policies that they claim discriminate against Asian-American applicants.

The plaintiffs, a group of Asian-Americans rejected by Harvard contend that Harvard has systematically discriminated against them by artificially capping the number of qualified Asian-Americans from attending the school in order to advance less qualified students of other races.

In the filing, language suggests that Harvard “uses a vague ‘personal rating’ that harms Asian-American applicants’ chances for admission and may be infected with racial bias; engages in unlawful racial balancing; and has never seriously considered race-neutral alternatives in its more than 45 years of using race to make admissions decisions.”

The department argued that Harvard does not adequately explain how race factors into its admissions decisions, leaving open the possibility that the university is going beyond what the law allows.

The Justice Department is pursuing its own investigation into Harvard’s admissions policies based on a complaint it received.

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