Trump DOJ to Investigate Affirmative Action in College Admissions

According to an internal Justice Department document obtained by the New York Times, the DOJ is looking for lawyers interested in working for a new project on "investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions." The Times also reports that the project will likely be run by the Trump administration's political appointees in the DOJ's front office, rather than career civil servants in the Educational Opportunities Section, and will examine and possibly sue schools over admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants.

The move is unlikely to alter race-based college or university admissions policies, which the Supreme Court confirmed were constitutional last year.

Equal Treatment

There are few details on the actual document at the heart of the Times' story, but judging from other shifts in the Justice Department's civil rights division since Attorney General Jeff Sessions took over, the program appears to target admissions programs that allegedly give minority applicants an edge over non-minority applicants with comparable or higher test scores. These programs have generally been found to be constitutional, so long as they don't involve quotas.

Last year, the Supreme Court upheld the University of Texas's admissions policy which, among other factors, considered an applicant's race when evaluating their "Personal Achievement Index." Abigail Fisher, a white female applicant, was denied admission in 2008 and sued, but the court found that the school had a need to create and maintain racial diversity in the student body, that prior, race-neutral policies had been ineffective in achieving that diversity goal, and that the program was narrowly tailored to affect only a small portion of the school's incoming students. "It remains an enduring challenge to our Nation's education system," the Court said, "to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity."

Class of 2017

It's too early to tell if the DOJ's investigations will affect college and university admissions policies. Whether those investigations will uncover "race-based discrimination," whether the Justice Department will sue schools for discrimination, and whether those suits are successful remains to be seen.

Kristen Clarke, president Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told the Times the new project "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." Until then, schools will likely adhere to the same admission standards they currently have.

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