Outrage erupts over report DOJ will target affirmative action

Outrage erupts over report DOJ will target affirmative action
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Civil rights advocates are slamming the Trump administration over its reported plans to investigate affirmative action admission policies at universities that discriminate against white students.

The New York Times reported Tuesday night that it had obtained an internal announcement to the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division 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 memo could herald a new effort within DOJ to go after affirmative action policies, according to the Times. 

The DOJ disputed the Times report.

“Press reports regarding the personnel posting in the Civil Rights Division have been inaccurate,”spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a Wednesday evening statement.

The DOJ is not launching a new initiative, Flores said. Rather, “The posting sought volunteers to investigate one administrative complaint filed by a coalition of 64 Asian-American associations in May 2015 that the prior Administration left unresolved. The complaint alleges racial discrimination against Asian Americans in a university’s admissions policy and practices."

"This Department of Justice has not received or issued any directive, memorandum, initiative, or policy related to university admissions in general. The Department of Justice is committed to protecting all Americans from all forms of illegal race-based discrimination.”


But Lambda Legal, an LGBT civil rights group responding to the New York Times report, said there was a “new low” for the Department of Justice and Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHarris to resign from Senate seat on Monday Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' Sessions, top DOJ officials knew 'zero tolerance' would separate families, watchdog finds MORE

“It’s repulsive and perverse that affirmative action has now found its main adversary in the very arm of DOJ meant to advance progress on civil rights: the Civil Rights Division,” Lambda Legal’s CEO Rachel Tiven said in a statement. 

“We are appalled but not surprised by this continued assault on civil rights, and Jeff Sessions' determination to sully the reputation of the Department of Justice."

In an email to The Hill sent before Flores' statement, a DOJ official said the document was a "personnel posting."

“It does not reflect a new policy or program or any changes to longstanding DOJ policy,” the official said. “Whenever there's a credible allegation of discrimination on the basis of race, the department will look into it.”

The New York Times noted in its story that the document does not explicitly identify whom the Justice Department considers at risk of discrimination, but said the phrasing of the letter “cuts to the heart of programs designed to bring more minority students to university campuses.” 

The news sparked outrage among civil rights groups already frustrated with Sessions, who has cracked down on immigration, ordered federal prosecutors to charge criminal suspects with the most serious crimes possible, re-established a controversial civil asset forfeiture program and rescinded guidance that allowed transgender students to use the bathroom that correspond with their gender identity — all within his first six months in office. 

“Instead of bolstering and strengthening education and opportunity, this administration has used education as a vehicle to advance discrimination — first by targeting transgender students through the Dept. of Education, and now by targeting People of Color through the Dept. of Justice,” Tiven said. 

“Meanwhile, real problems — police brutality, government corruption, and rising hate violence — are being ignored, as the DOJ chases figments and myths.” 

On Twitter, the Congressional Black Caucus accused Sessions of wanting to “put more people of color in jail and take away their educational opportunities."

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, meanwhile, condemned DOJ as planning to attack the use of race-conscious admission policies. 

“We will not stand by idly as the administration continues to hijack and obstruct the civil rights division’s core mission to address discrimination faced by racial minority groups in our country,” Kristen Clarke, the group’s president and executive director, said in a statement.

The American Civil Liberties Union's Racial Justice Program said it plans to closely monitor DOJ's actions. 

“The idea that the Justice Department would sue colleges over their inclusive policies is an affront to fairness and sends a dangerous signal that it will no longer work to protect the most vulnerable," Dennis Parker, the program's director, said in a statement. 

"It would mark an alarming shift in direction that threatens the hard-fought progress made by civil rights advocates and the department itself over the past decades. The Supreme Court has made it clear that it is constitutional to appropriately consider race as one of many factors in college admissions. "

Last summer, the Supreme Court upheld an affirmative action policies at the University of Texas at Austin. 

The court said the university could consider race when making its admissions decisions, but cautioned the school “to scrutinize the fairness of its admissions program, to assess whether changing demographics have undermined the need for race-conscious policy, and to identify the effects, both positive and negative, of the affirmative-action measures it deems necessary.”

Updated 6:27 p.m.