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News Brief: DOJ Sides Against Harvard, Remembering John McCain And Aretha Franklin


President Trump's administration signaled which side it's on in a lawsuit against Harvard.


Right. So any administration has the right to offer its views in a lawsuit. The Justice Department opinion on this suit may not change the outcome, but it does put government lawyers on the record here, and it raises the profile of the case. The suit was filed on behalf of Asian-American applicants who claim that Harvard discriminated against them as part of its admissions process. Their suit is being seen as a larger challenge to affirmative action.

INSKEEP: Kirk Carapezza of Boston member station WGBH has been covering this story. Hey. Good morning.

KIRK CARAPEZZA, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What is Harvard doing in admissions that caused them to be sued?

CARAPEZZA: Well, this lawsuit was brought by a group called Students for Fair Admissions, and they've accused Harvard of ranking Asian-American applicants much lower on intangible characteristics like courage, kindness and leadership, and also capping the number of qualified Asian-American applicants from attending the school. This is the same group, led by conservative strategist Edward Blum, who's filed suits against University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Texas at Austin. But in those cases, we should point out, Blum and the group said that white students are at a disadvantage in college admissions.

INSKEEP: OK, so we're...

CARAPEZZA: The Students for Fair Admissions...

INSKEEP: We're understanding here that their concern is not particularly or specifically about Asian-Americans. Their objection is to affirmative action, any kind of policy that attempts to use race or any other factors in admissions, right?

CARAPEZZA: Right. These conservative groups want Harvard and other selective schools to just drop the race-conscious admissions altogether, which the Supreme Court for the past 40 years has upheld.

INSKEEP: Does Harvard admit to the practices at issue here, that they do cap the number of Asian-Americans, that they do use various tests that keep down the numbers of students who might otherwise be there?

CARAPEZZA: No. The university denies all of these charges. They say race is considered as just one factor weighed against a number of other factors like your parents' job, your geography, whether or not you can, you know, throw a curveball or turn a double play. Harvard also points out that Asian-Americans now account for about 23 percent of all admitted students at the university. And in a statement yesterday, the university said it is deeply disappointed that the Justice Department has taken the side of Students for Fair Admissions. And at the same time, we should point out, this brief surprised absolutely no one in higher education because the Trump administration has already repealed the Obama-era guidelines on the consideration of race in admissions.

INSKEEP: Can you give us the broader perspective here of what's at stake with affirmative action? People will recall that there have been many, many years of challenges of affirmative action. It's been broadly upheld by courts and the Supreme Court but with some exceptions. What could change here?

CARAPEZZA: Is - the case focuses on Asian-Americans, but what's at stake here is the foundation of race-conscious college admissions. And that's why a lot of civil rights organizations are defending Harvard here, including, we should point out, several Asian-American groups. They say Harvard couldn't achieve the same level of diversity without considering race, and they see no evidence that this was unconstitutional or discriminating against Asian-Americans in any way.

Some legal experts are also predicting that this case could wind up before a conservative Supreme Court that could include Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which would make this case the next real test of affirmative action. Steve's - Kavanaugh's predecessor, Justice Anthony Kennedy, was that key swing vote in the 2016 election that preserved race-conscious admissions at the University of Texas at Austin. But first, before any of that happens, we have to get through this court trial here in Boston, which is expected to start in October.

INSKEEP: And we'll see if Kavanaugh is confirmed. Of course, he's President Trump's nominee. Kirk Carapezza, thanks very much.

CARAPEZZA: Thank you, Steve.


INSKEEP: Americans are saying goodbye to John McCain.

MARTIN: He was a Navy veteran, prisoner of war. He survived years of captivity and torture, went on to serve for decades in the U.S. Senate and run for president. And he is being remembered in Washington today. Yesterday, his home state of Arizona said goodbye.

INSKEEP: We're joined now by NPR's Kelsey Snell, who's been following Senator McCain's memorials. Hey there, Kelsey.


INSKEEP: What have the memorials been like so far?

SNELL: Well, the memorial started on Wednesday when McCain lay in state in the Arizona state Capitol. And I think the biggest memory people will have of that time was that his daughter, Meghan McCain, was physically racked seeing her father's body, and it was just a very emotional moment for her.

And then yesterday, there were services at North Phoenix Baptist Church, where we saw, really, a number of big speeches from people who've known him throughout his political career, known McCain personally. I think one of the people that really stuck out for me was Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals, who formed a friendship with McCain in the - first meeting him in 2006. We can listen a little bit of what he said.


LARRY FITZGERALD: How does this unlikely pair become friends? I've asked myself this same question. But do you know what the answer is? That's just who he is.

SNELL: There was a lot of that - personal remembrances of McCain, of special moments that people spent with him. And of course, there was Vice President Joe Biden, whose son Beau died of the same type of a very aggressive brain cancer that afflicted McCain.


JOE BIDEN: His conviction that we as a country would never walk away from the sacrifices generations of Americans have made to defend liberty and freedom and human dignity around the world - it made average Americans proud of themselves and their country.

INSKEEP: This is maybe a good moment to recall that Joe Biden not only was in the other party, but opposed John McCain. He was a vice presidential candidate when McCain was a presidential candidate in 2008. Nevertheless, here he was, coming to pay tribute.

SNELL: Yeah, and I think that has been a theme of what we've been seeing from a lot of the people who have come and spoken about McCain. We saw other Democrats. We saw people who, you know, had unlikely friendships with him, people who said that they respected him and that even when they clashed, they were proud to know McCain, and they were proud to share the stories of a person who they personally saw as a hero.

INSKEEP: What happens today?

SNELL: Today, he will be lying in state in the U.S. Capitol. And this is a really big honor. There - he'll be the first person since former Senator Daniel Inouye, who passed away in office in 2012, to lie in state. Other people have had the honor of lying in honor, which is a very different thing. But it's going to be a ceremony that includes a wreath-laying from the majority leader in the House - sorry - the majority leader in the Senate, and the speaker of the House and Vice President Mike Pence. So that will - that's today. And then tomorrow, there will be a funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral. And then there will be a private burial service at the Naval Academy in Annapolis on Sunday.

INSKEEP: We get into these details partly because they're meant to send a message. They're symbolically important. People are making statements about the country, about what's important about the country. And we have, in this case, a man who died leaving behind final statements, final messages. What messages are being sent by who shows up for these ceremonies, who's kept out at these ceremonies? Anything else?

SNELL: Yeah, McCain was very much in control of the message he wanted to send about his life and what he wanted people to remember about him. One of the notable things is that the president, Donald Trump, will not be in attendance. Instead, as I mentioned, Mike Pence, the vice president, will be at the ceremony today. And then...

INSKEEP: McCain had made it known that he didn't want the president there.

SNELL: Yes, and instead, he has asked that former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama speak to - about his life and legacy - two people that he ran against and lost, two people that he had conflicted relationships with. He wanted to send a message about who he was as a bipartisan and as a person who worked across the aisle.

INSKEEP: Kelsey, thanks very much, really appreciate it.

SNELL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Kelsey Snell.

And now let's talk about Detroit. Aretha Franklin gets her final send-off today in a vintage white Cadillac hearse that once carried civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

MARTIN: Fans have been celebrating the Queen of Soul all this past week in her hometown of Motown, including a big memorial concert last night.


CHERRI BLACK: (Singing) You make me feel, you make me feel - ooh, yeah - feel like a, feel like a...

INSKEEP: And her funeral is today. NPR's Debbie Elliott is covering this story. Hi there, Debbie.


INSKEEP: So I'm imagining that there's been a lot of Aretha playing wherever you've been the last few days.

ELLIOTT: Oh, yes. It has been a long, sweet and soulful goodbye here in Detroit. You know, tens of thousands of people have showed up. They've been waiting in these really long lines in the summer heat just so they can pay tribute to the Queen of Soul. There have been three days of public viewings here. You know, people would be breaking out on their favorite Aretha song. They would share stories of seeing her in concert - lots of selfies by that vintage Cadillac hearse - just this real sense of camaraderie.

INSKEEP: Is it true that Aretha has changed clothes during the ceremonies, during the viewing?

ELLIOTT: Well, she hasn't changed clothes, but the funeral director and the funeral - the Swanson Funeral Home that took care of this have changed her outfits.

INSKEEP: That's what I mean.

ELLIOTT: They say this is part of this regal spirit, right? Yesterday, she was at her home church, the one that her father led - her late father led. And she had on this rose gold suit, sparkling gold stiletto heels. She's very much been somebody to look up to. You know, people here in Detroit really claim her. Time and time again, they talk about how important she is to the city, the fact that, you know, other people gain celebrity, gain fame, and they leave, but she stayed in Detroit, and that's really important to people here.

INSKEEP: What do they see as her legacy beyond the music that remains?

ELLIOTT: You know, people talked a lot about how she brings people together. I went through the visitation line at her home church, New Bethel Baptist, with two sisters, Cheryl and Tanyia Shannon, who grew up in Detroit, and they talked about how her mom - their mom played Aretha Franklin and that really shaped who they were as people.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: She taught you how to be a respectable woman.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: That song "Respect" - listen to the words.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: A respectable woman.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: That's what it mean - respect.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: If these youngsters today would listen to that song, it would change the way they look at themselves because she taught us that.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Aretha Franklin music taught you everything.

INSKEEP: Wow. Wow. So what's the funeral supposed to be like today?

ELLIOTT: Well, it's going to be a very special homegoing. It's expected to last about five hours. It's by private invitation only at Greater Grace Temple. But people will be outside and be able to watch what's happening. Lots of celebrities on hand - Stevie Wonder is expected to perform - President Bill Clinton and the Reverend Jesse Jackson going to give remarks. But the pastor of that church says, you know, this is not a show; it's a religious service, and mourners should expect to leave with a spiritual awakening.

INSKEEP: Debbie, thanks very much.

ELLIOTT: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Debbie Elliott in Detroit, where she is covering the funeral of Aretha Franklin.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN FOREBEE'S "SECRET WHISPER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
Kirk is a reporter for the NPR member station in Boston, WGBH, where he covers higher education, connecting the dots between post-secondary education and the economy, national security, jobs and global competitiveness. Kirk has been a reporter with Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison, Wis.; a writer and producer at WBUR in Boston; a teacher and coach at Nativity Preparatory School in New Bedford, Mass.; a Fenway Park tour guide; and a tourist abroad. Kirk received his B.A. from the College of the Holy Cross and earned his M.S. from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. When he's not reporting or editing stories on campus, you can find him posting K's on the Wall at Fenway. You can follow Kirk on Twitter @KirkCarapezza.
NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
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