The Trump Administration is working to reallocate resources within the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department to prepare for an investigation, and potential lawsuits, regarding how universities use affirmative action in the admissions process and how such actions might lead to “intentional race-based discrimination” when selecting students using those standards.
As reported by The New York Times, who obtained an internal announcement within the Civil Rights Division, says that the document states the agency is seeking lawyers for a new project that involves “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”
Based on the announcement, it’s believed these efforts will be managed by the front office of the division, leaving it in the hands of the Trump administration’s political appointees instead of the civil servants who operate in the Educational Opportunities Section.
The document does not explicitly state that discrimination against white students based on affirmative action policies is the target of the project. However, the phrase, “intentional race-based discrimination,” alludes to the concept.
Both critics and supporters of the project state the announcement clearly places attention on admissions programs that give preference to certain disadvantaged minority students.
Roger Clegg, a former government official and current president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, considers the project a “welcome” and “long overdue” change.
“The civil rights laws were deliberately written to protect everyone from discrimination, and it is frequently the case that not only are whites discriminated against now but frequently Asian-Americans are as well,” said Clegg.
On the other side, Kristen Clarke, the president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, criticized the project, stating it is “misaligned with the division’s longstanding priorities.” She continued saying that the Civil Rights Division was “created and launched to deal with the unique problem of discrimination faced by our nation’s most oppressed minority groups.”
Clarke considers the move, “deeply disturbing, and said, “It would be a dog whistle that could invite a lot of chaos and unnecessarily create hysteria among colleges and universities who may fear that the government may come down on them for their efforts to maintain diversity on their campuses.”
The Justice Department has provided no additional details regarding the project and John Gore, the head of the Civil Rights Division, has not been made available for an interview.
Devin O’Malley, a spokesman for the Justice Department, stated, “The Department of Justice does not discuss personnel matters, so we’ll decline to comment.”
The Supreme Court previously ruled that having a diverse student body can provide educational benefits, and permits colleges and universities to consider race as a single factor in a larger “holistic” admissions process. Race-based quotas or point systems were rejected.
Some consider the Supreme Court ruling vague, as it does not prescribe a system for such evaluations.
Multiple lawsuits are pending regarding affirmative action in admissions targeting some high-profile educational institutions, including Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold a race-aware admissions program in use at the University of Texas.
The Justice Department has not asserted a formal position on those cases.