Justice Department reverses Obama guidelines on race in school admissions

The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice building in Washington, DC. Photo: Facebook

July 4 (UPI) — The U.S. Department of Justice reversed a set of Obama-era guidelines that promoted using race in admissions standards to achieve diversity in schools.

The admissions memos were among 24 policy documents rescinded by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday for being “unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper,” in what Sessions said was a return to “the rule of law.”

“The American people deserve to have their voices heard and a government that is accountable to them. When issuing regulations, federal agencies must abide by constitutional principles and follow the rules set forth by Congress and the president,” he said. “In previous administrations, however, agencies often tried to impose new rules on the American people without any public notice or comment period, simply by sending a letter or posting a guidance document on a website. That’s wrong, and it’s not good government.”

The previous guidelines — published between 2011 and 2016 — provided educational contexts in which institutions could permissibly consider race and clarified how to interpret Supreme Court decisions.

The reversal doesn’t change current U.S. law on affirmative action and doesn’t affect how schools choose to operate within the confines of current Supreme Court precedent, but changes guidelines to more closely resemble a Bush-era document encouraging “race-neutral” methods of admitting students to elementary and secondary schools.

“The Supreme Court has determined what affirmative-action policies are constitutional, and the Court’s written decisions are the best guide for navigating this complex issue,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said.

Roger Clegg, president and general counsel of the Council for Equal Opportunity, and other critics of the Obama-era guidelines claimed they actively went beyond Supreme Court precedent and encouraged racial bias.

“Just because the courts have ruled that some kinds of racial discrimination are legally permissible does not mean it is appropriate for the federal government to encourage as much of it as people can get away with,” Clegg said.

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law condemned the reversal as a “politically motivated attack on affirmative action.”

“The rescission of this guidance does not overrule forty years of precedent that affirms the constitutionality of a university’s limited use of race in college admissions. This most recent decision by the Department of Education is wholly consistent with the administration’s unwavering hostility towards diversity in our schools,” Clarke said.

The decision came as the Justice Department is investigating whether Harvard University is illegally discriminating against Asian-American students in response to a civil lawsuit brought by non-profit group Students for Fair Admissions, which accuses Harvard of trying to limit the number of Asian students admitted to the school.


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