The Department of Justice is planning on investigating affirmative action policies in universities in the United States, according to an internal document released by the New York Times on Tuesday night. In the document released, it stated the Civil Rights division of the department was in search of lawyers to work on “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”
“The New York Times suggested that the phrase ‘intentional race-based discrimination’ could mean the undertaking is aimed at affirmative action-based policies, specifically ones that prioritize minority students over white students,” according to CNN.
In the document released, it stated the Civil Rights division of the department was in search of lawyers to work on “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”
The Department of Justice said the posting in the document was sparked by a complaint made by a group of 64 Asian-American associations regarding racial discrimination in Harvard University’s admission policies. The lawsuit, which Harvard has been fighting for three years, claims that the number of Asian Americans that can be admitted is capped in order to enlist more African American and Hispanic students, as part of its policy to balance racial diversity. The activists behind this lawsuit want to end affirmative action nationally, in all universities across the United States. However, affirmative action has been used to provide opportunities and assistance to historically and systemically disadvantaged minorities such as African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans, among other groups.
The Trump Administration’s launch into this investigation can be seen as an appeal to its conservative base, which has long opposed affirmative actions policies. The Harvard lawsuit was initiated by Students for Fair Admissions, a group run by Edward Blum, which has a record of creating litigation by using white plaintiffs to argue against universities’ affirmative action policies. They have now also used Asian American plaintiffs in their cases as part of a new emphasis.
Despite the Department of Justice’s new initiatives to review affirmative action policies, the Supreme Court ruled in 1978 that race can be one of the factors in a university’s admission policies, in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. The decision held as recently as June 2016, when the Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that a race-conscious policy based on affirmative action at the University of Texas was constitutional.
“The goal here is to drum up a bunch of fear and intimated schools who are trying to provide a pipeline to leadership for all Americans,” former head of the civil rights division in the Department of Justice under President Obama, Vanita Gupta, said in regards to investigation of affirmative action.
“Long-standing Supreme Court precedent has upheld the constitutionality and compelling state interest of these policies, and generations of Americans have benefited from richer, more inclusive institutions of higher education,” Gupta said.