Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College et al
NOTICE by United States of Interest in Public Access to Summary Judgment Briefing and Materials (Donnelly, Matthew)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS
STUDENTS FOR FAIR ADMISSIONS, INC.,
PRESIDENT AND FELLOWS OF HARVARD
COLLEGE (HARVARD CORPORATION),
NOTICE OF INTEREST IN PUBLIC ACCESS
TO SUMMARY JUDGMENT BRIEFING AND MATERIALS
The United States respectfully notifies the Court of its substantial interest in this suit and
in public access to the summary judgment briefing and materials in this case. Plaintiff Students
for Fair Admissions, Inc. (“SFFA”) alleges that Harvard College has engaged in intentional
discrimination against Asian Americans in its admissions process in violation of federal civil
rights law. The public funds Harvard at a cost of millions of dollars each year, and thus has a
paramount interest in any proof of these allegations, Harvard’s responses to them, and the
Court’s resolution of this dispute. The Court therefore should ensure that these proceedings are
open and accessible to the public consistent with the requirements of governing law.
Moreover, the United States has authority and responsibility to investigate alleged
violations of, and to enforce, Title VI and other federal civil rights statutes. Under that authority,
the United States is currently conducting an independent Title VI investigation into whether
Harvard’s admissions policy discriminates against Asian-American applicants to Harvard
College. Given the overlap between this suit and the United States’ investigation, this Court’s
resolution of issues presented here may bear on the scope and resolution of the United States’
investigation and enforcement of federal civil rights laws. Accordingly, the United States may
exercise its statutory authority to file a statement of interest at the summary judgment phase of
this case. See 28 U.S.C. § 517. 1
The United States therefore has a strong interest in public access to the parties’ summary
judgment briefing and materials. The United States agrees that applicants to Harvard, their
families, and the general public have a presumptively paramount right to access the summary
judgment record in this civil rights case. Moreover, the United States and any amici can
participate meaningfully in summary judgment only if they can access the summary judgment
materials and familiarize themselves with the legal issues and portions of the voluminous
discovery record that the parties present to the Court. Indeed, any undue limitation on or delay
in public access to the summary judgment materials would, at a minimum, create substantial
obstacles to the participation of non-parties on the Court’s current schedule and, more likely,
may even eliminate entirely the opportunity of non-parties to participate in summary judgment.
Accordingly, the United States requests that the Court adhere to the well-established legal
framework for protecting the presumptive right of public access to summary judgment materials
and the legitimate privacy interests of parties to litigation. In particular, the Court should
preserve public access to the summary judgment materials in this case unless a party first carries
its burden of making a particularized showing that the most compelling reason overcomes the
presumption of such access to specific information. Thus, the Court should reject Harvard’s
The United States’ exercise of its statutory authority to file a statement of interest does
not constitute intervention under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24 or require leave of court.
See 28 U.S.C. § 517. Nonetheless, the United States would file any statement of interest at the
summary judgment phase on the schedule that the Court has set for amicus filings. See March
14, 2018, Electronic Order, ECF No. 387.
invitation to flip the presumption; the Court should not allow “briefs and supporting documents
[to] be filed provisionally under seal on the established schedule” and consider unsealing
documents only on some unspecified timeline after the parties have filed all of their summary
judgment materials. See Harvard March 30, 2018, Ltr. at 1-2, ECF No. 389.
THE COURT SHOULD PRESERVE APPROPRIATE PUBLIC ACCESS TO THE
SUMMARY JUDGMENT BRIEFING AND MATERIALS IN THIS CASE
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 imposes anti-discrimination obligations on
recipients of federal funding, including a prohibition on discrimination “on the ground of race,
color, or national origin” in “any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 42
U.S.C. § 2000d. Congress has directed “[e]ach Federal department and agency which is
empowered to extend Federal financial assistance . . . to effectuate the provisions of” Title VI.
42 U.S.C. § 2000d-1. The taxpaying public provides Harvard with millions of dollars in federal
financial assistance each year, see Answer ¶ 32, ECF No. 17, including financial assistance from
the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice is currently conducting an investigation
into, among other things, a complaint filed by more than 60 Asian-American organizations
alleging—similar to SFFA in this case—that Harvard has violated Title VI by discriminating
against Asian-American applicants to Harvard College on the basis of race. See 28 C.F.R.
§§ 42.101-42.112 (Department of Justice regulations implementing the nondiscrimination
provisions of Title VI).
This case thus overlaps with the legal and factual bases undergirding the United States’
investigation and could directly bear on that investigation and the interpretation and scope of
Title VI and other anti-discrimination laws that the United States enforces. See, e.g., 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000c-6 (enforcement of Equal Protection Clause in the context of institutions of higher
learning); 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. (Title IX of the Education Act Amendments of 1972); Barnes
v. Gorman, 536 U.S. 181, 185 (2002) (“[The Supreme] Court has interpreted Title IX
consistently with Title VI.”). Indeed, any construction or application of Title VI here could
implicate a host of federally-funded programs and activities: Title VI reaches well beyond the
education context with federal agencies across the spectrum extending federal financial
assistance and issuing regulations implementing Title VI’s anti-discrimination mandate. 2 The
Executive Branch has charged the Department of Justice with a unique federal government-wide
coordination function for Title VI and similar anti-discrimination laws to ensure consistent
application and enforcement. Executive Order 12250, 28 C.F.R. pt. 41, app. A; see also 28
C.F.R. § 0.50 (delegating to the Civil Rights Division the responsibility for “[e]nforcement of all
Federal statutes affecting civil rights”); 28 C.F.R. § 0.51 (delegating to the Civil Rights Division
the responsibility “for coordinating the implementation and enforcement by Executive agencies”
of Title VI and other anti-discrimination laws); United States v. Maricopa Cnty., 915 F. Supp. 2d
1073, 1080 (D. Ariz. 2012) (“The DOJ coordinates government-wide compliance with Title VI
and its interpretation of Title VI is entitled to special deference.”) (citations omitted).
Given the significant interests of the United States potentially implicated by this case, the
United States may exercise its statutory authority to file a statement of interest at the summary
judgment phase. See 28 U.S.C. § 517. If the United States exercises this authority, it plans to
file a statement of interest on the schedule this Court already has set for filing amicus briefs—
i.e., 28 days after the party being supported files a motion and 18 days after the party files an
opposition. See March 14, 2018, Electronic Order, ECF No. 387.
See, e.g., 7 C.F.R. § 15.3 (Agriculture); 15 C.F.R. § 8.4 (Commerce); 10 C.F.R.
§ 1040.13 (Energy); 45 C.F.R. § 80.3 (Health and Human Services); 24 C.F.R. § 1.4 (Housing
and Urban Development); 43 C.F.R. § 17.3 (Interior); 29 C.F.R. § 31.3 (Labor); 22 C.F.R.
§ 141.3 (State); 49 C.F.R. § 21.5 (Transportation).
The Department of Justice therefore has a significant interest in preserving public access
to the parties’ summary judgment briefing and materials. The United States agrees that past,
present, and prospective applicants to Harvard, their families, and the general public have “a
profoundly important interest in observing and understanding how the Court resolves this case”
and the parties’ competing assertions regarding whether Harvard College’s admissions process
comports with Title VI’s anti-discrimination mandate. SFFA March 30, 2018, Ltr. at 1, ECF No.
388. Even Harvard agrees that “there is a public interest in this case.” Harvard March 30, 2018,
Ltr. at 2.
Moreover, public access is essential to guaranteeing a meaningful opportunity for nonparties such as the United States and any amici to participate in the summary judgment phase.
The United States and any amici can identify, understand, and contribute to the legal arguments
and factual support that the parties present to the Court only if they can access the summary
judgment briefs and materials. While the Department of Justice has secured most of the
discovery materials in this case through its Title VI investigative authority, see 28 C.F.R.
§ 42.106, those materials alone do not disclose the legal arguments the parties will advance, or
which parts of the vast record the parties will rely upon, in their summary judgment briefs and
statements of material facts. Thus, the United States, like any amici, must have access to the
parties’ briefs, statements of material facts, and supporting exhibits in order to decide whether to
file a brief and aid the Court’s consideration of any summary judgment motions.
Harvard’s letter to the Court makes no mention of the Court’s scheduling order
recognizing the right of non-parties to participate in summary judgment or of non-parties’ need
for access to summary judgment materials in order to make that right meaningful. See generally
Harvard March 30, 2018, Ltr. Rather, “Harvard proposes that the briefs and supporting
documents be filed provisionally under seal on the established schedule, and that the Court set a
schedule for the parties to assess the filings, confer to identify areas of disagreement concerning
the sealing of those documents, and submit any disagreements to the Court for prompt
resolution.” Id. at 1-2. But that proposal, if accepted by the Court, would create substantial
obstacles to the ability of non-parties to participate in summary judgment—and, more likely,
might even eliminate that opportunity entirely.
Indeed, non-parties must be able to access the parties’ summary judgment filings
immediately in order to draft briefs within the 28-day and 18-day periods provided in the Court’s
scheduling order. See March 14, 2018, Electronic Order. Harvard, however, does not specify
how long it would take “for the parties to assess the filings, confer to identify areas of
disagreement concerning the sealing of those documents, and submit any disagreements to the
Court” for its “resolution.” Harvard March 30, 2018, Ltr. at 1-2. This process might not even
start until after the parties have submitted all of their summary judgment filings, including the
reply briefs. In that scenario, the United States and any amici would have no opportunity to
access the parties’ filings before the deadlines to file non-party briefs—and, thus, would be
entirely shut out of participating in the summary judgment phase. Alternatively, the process
could be conducted in multiple stages after each round of summary judgment filings. But such a
piecemeal process would unduly tax the Court’s scarce resources, and each stage of that process
could last up to 28 days or even longer, again shutting non-parties out of the opportunity to
timely access the parties’ filings and to file briefs on the Court’s schedule. Thus, under either
scenario, Harvard’s proposal would foreclose the United States and any amici from meaningful
participation in the summary judgment phase.
To be sure, there is a weighty interest in protecting the private identities of students and
applicants, as both SFFA and Harvard agree. See Harvard March 30, 2018, Ltr. at 3; SFFA
March 30, 2018, Ltr. at 2-3. But neither that interest nor any of Harvard’s other generalized
arguments warrant adoption of Harvard’s proposal to file all summary judgment materials under
seal. In fact, Harvard’s proposal contravenes the governing law and should be rejected for that
reason as well.
Both the First Amendment and the common law require courts to preserve the
presumptively paramount public access to judicial records, including summary judgment
materials, and this Court should give full weight to this well-established presumption. Fed.
Trade Comm’n v. Standard Fin. Mgmt. Corp., 830 F.2d 404, 408 (1st Cir. 1987); Bradford &
Bigelow, Inc. v. Richardson, 109 F. Supp. 3d 445, 447-48 (D. Mass. 2015). The presumption
“stems from the premise that public monitoring of the judicial system fosters the important
values of ‘quality, honesty and respect for our legal system.’” Siedle v. Putnam Investments,
Inc., 147 F.3d 7, 9-10 (1st Cir. 1998) (quoting Standard Fin. Mgmt. Corp., 830 F.2d at 410).
The public-access right applies to the trial record as well as summary judgment evidence because
they both involve “materials on which a court relies in determining the litigants’ substantive
rights.” In re Providence Journal Co., Inc., 293 F.3d 1, 9-10 (1st Cir. 2002) (citation omitted).
The burden of persuasion rests with the party “seeking to keep the datum hidden” who must
provide “a particular factual demonstration of potential harm.” Standard Fin. Mgmt. Corp., 830
F.2d at 411-12 (cited by Harvard March 30, 2018, Ltr. at 2-3). This Court must “weigh the
presumptively paramount right of the public to know against the competing private interest at
stake,” keeping in mind that “[t]he citizens’ right to know is not lightly to be deflected” and
“[o]nly the most compelling reasons can justify non-disclosure.” Id. at 410.
Harvard’s proposal flips these controlling legal rules into a presumption in favor of a
sealed summary judgment record. Harvard’s proposal would allow the parties to file all
summary judgment materials under seal (thereby imperiling the right of the United States and
any amici to participate in the summary judgment phase), would allow the parties to keep
information under seal by agreement, and would permit the Court to enforce the presumption of
public access only if the parties raise “disagreements.” Harvard March 30, 2018, Ltr. at 1-2.
Harvard offers no justification for this approach other than generalized assertions regarding
student privacy and a purportedly proprietary admissions process. See id. The United States, of
course, shares the weighty interest in protecting the privacy of applicants and students. But
Harvard’s generalized assertions are insufficient to carry its burden to make a particularized
showing that the Court should allow any information—let alone the entire summary judgment
record—to be filed under seal and to remain under seal until the Court resolves any
disagreements between the parties in favor of public access. See id. at 3; SFFA March 30, 2018,
Ltr. at 2-4; see also Standard Fin. Mgmt. Corp., 830 F.2d at 410-12.
This is especially true here. In the first place, Harvard has already redacted personal
identifying information from the student and applicant records that it has produced in discovery.
See Harvard March 30, 2018, Ltr. at 3. SFFA therefore does not have that information and
cannot include it in its summary judgment materials. See SFFA March 30, 2018, Ltr. at 2-4
& n. 1. In any event, SFFA has represented that it will redact personal information from the
“few, if any” individual student or applicant records it may file at summary judgment. Id. at 2.
And, finally, Harvard’s concern about public disclosure of the particulars of its admissions
process is belied by its own prior public disclosure of many of those particulars. See, e.g., SFFA
March 30, 2018, Ltr. at 10-11.
In short, Harvard’s proposal contravenes the law and imperils the interest of the public,
the United States, and any amici in full, fair, and open proceedings. This Court should instead
apply the well-settled law construing the presumption of public access to judicial records and
leave summary judgment (and any trial) materials available to the public unless a party first
makes a particular factual demonstration of potential harm from disclosure of each piece of
information that the party wishes to file under seal.
John M. Gore
Acting Assistant Attorney General
/s/ Matthew J. Donnelly Matthew J. Donnelly (IL Bar #6281308)
Sean R. Keveney (TX Bar #24033862)
Hilary F. Pinion (VA Bar #46872)
United States Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530
DATED: April 6, 2018
CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
I hereby certify that this document filed through the CM/ECF system will be sent
electronically to the registered participants as identified on the Notice of Electronic Filing
(“NEF”), and paper copies will be sent to non-registered participants as indicated on the NEF.
/s/ Matthew J. Donnelly
Matthew J. Donnelly
Attorney for the United States
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?