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In October 2022, nearly 50 years after his graduation from Harvard, Seth P. Waxman ’73 defended his alma mater before the Supreme Court.
Waxman, who now serves as a partner at law firm WilmerHale, is no stranger to high profile litigation. His illustrious legal career includes a stint as United States solicitor general from 1997 to 2001 and more than 80 cases in front of the Supreme Court.
Waxman, who promised to see the litigation through its end, has been a part of Harvard’s defense since the University was first sued over its admissions practices more than eight years ago.
The lawsuit, originally brought by anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions in 2014, alleges that Harvard College’s race-conscious admissions processes discriminate against Asian American applicants. Harvard has denied all claims of discrimination.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case last fall. Though two lower courts previously sided with Harvard, legal experts believe the Court’s strong conservative majority will rule against Harvard and its admissions policies, with a decision expected this summer.
Still, Waxman recalled being “excited” when he was first asked to represent Harvard by then-University President Drew G. Faust and General Counsel Robert W. Iuliano ’83.
“This was going to be a very important piece of litigation — not just for Harvard, but for the country,” he said. “I felt particularly honored to be asked by Harvard to do it for the institution and for higher ed generally.”
“It’s been a broadening experience for me,” he added.
Waxman said that his Harvard education was formative in “shaping [his] outlook about the world.”
As an undergraduate, Waxman said he maintained a “very, very, very busy schedule.”
“I was attempting to put myself through school, while also, I was very seriously involved in musical performance, photography, and research,” he said.
A resident of Quincy House, Waxman was also highly engaged in house life, where he worked at the house’s grille, ran its darkroom, and taught classes in photography.
But unbeknownst to him at the time, the connections he made at Harvard played a pivotal role in his career path as a public servant.
After rising to managing partner of law firm Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin, Waxman recalled being “quite happy” in his regular and pro bono practices.
In 1994, Jamie S. Gorelick ’72, who was a friend of Waxman’s and a fellow resident of Quincy, was appointed deputy attorney general.
Gorelick reached out to Waxman and another undergraduate friend of theirs — now Attorney General Merrick B. Garland ’74 — with an offer to work at the Department of Justice.
“Both Merrick and I said yes, and it became sort of a little triumvirate of Harvard friends who had the experience together,” Waxman said.
Waxman’s involvement at Harvard in his five decades since graduation spans far more than the ongoing Supreme Court case. He served on the Board of Overseers — Harvard’s second-highest governing body — from 2005 to 2012, including a stint as its president from 2010 to 2011.
After leaving government service, Waxman also served as a visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, where he taught an undergraduate course.
“Although I graduated 50 years ago, I sort of feel like my engagement with Harvard has never really ended,” he said.
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