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UPDATE 2-Judge rejects lawsuit that claimed Harvard discriminated against Asian-Americans

Asian-Americans@ (Recasts, adds context)

Oct 1 (Reuters) - Harvard University's undergraduate admissions program does not discriminate against Asian-American applicants, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday, rejecting a lawsuit brought by opponents of affirmative action policies and backed by the White House.

The case had pitted the U.S. Ivy League school against Students for Fair Admissions, which said Harvard admissions data showed that Asian-American applicants were less likely to be admitted than comparably qualified white, black and Hispanic counterparts.

"The court will not dismantle a very fine admissions program that passes constitutional muster, solely because it could do better," U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs in Boston wrote in a decision released on Tuesday.

Burroughs ruled nearly a year after holding a non-jury trial.

An appeal of the decision could eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court, and give its five-member conservative majority a chance to bar or more strictly limit the use of affirmative action to help minority applicants get into college.

In prior affirmative action cases, the Court has allowed colleges to include race as one factor in assessing applicants.

The SFFA group that brought the case accused Harvard of going too far by engaging in "racial balancing" that limited Asian-Americans to no more than 20% of its incoming classes.

The group founded by longtime affirmative action opponent, Edward Blum, argued that while Asian-Americans outperformed other groups on academic measures, stereotyping caused them to receive low scores on subjective "personal" ratings.

Harvard denied that charge, saying that its use of race in admissions was legal, and was not a factor in the "personal" ratings.

The U.S. Department of Justice sided with SFFA, saying Harvard had not seriously considered race-neutral approaches to admissions.

It has also probed whether another Ivy League school, Yale University, also discriminates against Asian Americans. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Rosalba O'Brien)