Sessions announces reversal of Obama-era guidelines promoting diversity in college admissions

Sessions announces reversal of Obama-era guidelines promoting diversity in college admissions
© Greg Nash

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports McCabe: Trump's 'relentless attack' on FBI prompted memoir Trump: 'Disgraced' McCabe, Rosenstein look like they were planning 'very illegal act' MORE on Tuesday rescinded a series of Obama-era guidelines aimed at promoting diversity in higher education.

The documents laid out legal guidelines for how colleges could properly consider race in admissions decisions in order to promote campus diversity. Rescinding the guidelines does not change official U.S. policy, but marks a return to the George W. Bush-era approach of “race-neutral” college admissions.

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The guidelines were among 24 that Sessions pulled back on Tuesday, deeming them “unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper.”

The Trump administration has argued that the rules violate Supreme Court precedent on affirmative action.

"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," said Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosStudents call on DeVos to offer free tampons, pads in schools to address 'period poverty' DeVos recovering from broken pelvis, hip socket after bicycle accident Student veterans deserve better than the DeVos agenda MORE in a statement.

The move has been harshly criticized by civil rights groups, who say that rescinding the guidances will be detrimental to students of color in the U.S.

The American Council on Education has already vowed to ignore the decision, saying that the administration is sending “precisely the wrong message” to institutions of higher education.

But Sessions argued that the decision to rescind the policies was intended to undo what he described as government overreach and previous administrations' efforts 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," he said

Still, abandoning the Justice Department guidelines does not change current U.S. law, and schools are allowed to operate as they choose, so long as their actions fit within existing legal precedents. 

The move came days after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced that he would retire from the Supreme Court this summer. His departure means that the court will lose a key swing vote on affirmative action issues, while allowing President TrumpDonald John TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump's national emergency declaration MORE to nominate a more conservative replacement.

Affirmative action in college admissions is the subject of one high-profile lawsuit alleging that Harvard University has discriminated against Asian-American applicants in order to free up spots for other racial minorities.

The Justice Department weighed in on the side of the Asian-American applicants in April, asking a federal judge to order the release of years of Harvard admission records.

Updated at 10:07 a.m.