In a development civil rights groups characterized as “deeply disturbing,” the New York Times reported on Tuesday that the Trump Justice Department is looking to begin “investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants.”
“Throughout his career, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has pushed efforts to end affirmative action programs and he has a clear record of hostility to racial diversity.”
—Kristen Clarke, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The plan is detailed in an internal Justice Department document obtained by the Times. The memo makes clear that the “new project” will be run not by career civil servants, who are usually tasked with handling school-related matters, but by Trump’s political appointees.
“Supporters and critics of the project said [the document] was clearly targeting admissions programs that can give members of generally disadvantaged groups, like black and Latino students, an edge over other applicants with comparable or higher test scores,” the Times notes.
Rights groups immediately expressed alarm, portraying the department’s memo as part of the Trump administration’s broad effort to roll back central civil rights provisions in crucial areas of American society, from schools to the workplace to the voting booth.
Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement on Monday that the Justice Department’s move to “challenge efforts that colleges and universities have undertaken to expand educational opportunity is an affront to our values as a country.”
“Longstanding Supreme Court precedent has upheld the constitutionality and compelling state interest of these policies,” Gutpta noted, “and generations of Americans have benefited from richer, more inclusive institutions of higher education.”
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, observed in an interview with the Times that the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division was “created and launched to deal with the unique problem of discrimination faced by our nation’s most oppressed minority groups.” The plan outlined in the department’s internal memo represents a “disturbing” diversion from this mission, Clarke argues.
“Everything they are doing is making it clear that they want to defang and weaken the federal government’s tools to protect the civil rights and safety of people across the country.”
—Sen. Patty Murray
“Throughout his career, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has pushed efforts to end affirmative action programs and he has a clear record of hostility to racial diversity,” Clarke added in a statement, referring to his record as a federal prosecutor. “We will not stand by idly as this administration continues to hijack and obstruct this division’s core civil rights mission.”
As Common Dreams has reported, numerous key figures within the Trump administration—namely Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—have come under fire in recent weeks for what civil rights groups have deemed their “repeated refusal” to commit to enforcing federal civil rights protections.
In response to a recent Department of Education directive aimed at scaling back civil rights investigations at public schools, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said: “President Trump and his administration can claim to oppose discrimination all they want, but actions speak louder than words,” she said. “Everything they are doing is making it clear that they want to defang and weaken the federal government’s tools to protect the civil rights and safety of people across the country.”