In its latest move to dismantle the gains of the Obama administration, the Trump administration announced on Tuesday (July 3) that it has abandoned a policy that directs schools to consider race in the effort to diversify campuses across the nation.
The Department of Education (DOE) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a joint letter announcing that the federal government rescinded the policy, which was laid out via seven documents between 2011 and 2016.
From the letter, which argues that the policy exceeds the reach of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s Title IV and Title VI provisions:
The Departments have reviewed the documents and have concluded that they advocate policy preferences and positions beyond the requirements of the Constitution, Title IV and Title VI. Moreover, the documents prematurely decide, or appear to decide, whether particular actions violate the Constitution or federal law. By suggesting to public schools, as well as recipients of federal funding, that they take action or refrain from taking action beyond plain legal requirements, the documents are inconsistent with governing principles for agency guidance documents.
Accordingly, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice have decided to withdraw the documents. The protections from discrimination on the basis of race guaranteed by the Constitution, Title IV and Title VI remain in place. The Departments are firmly committed to vigorously enforcing these protections on behalf of all students.
As detailed by The New York Times, these policies don’t have the force of law, but they are viewed as the official stance of the federal government, and they inform the admissions policies of schools—from primary through college—that wish to stay in the good graces of the DOE and DOJ.
The DOE reposted a George W. Bush-era guidance on its website, which says, “The Department of Education strongly encourages the use of race-neutral methods for assigning students to elementary and secondary schools.”
This change comes as affirmative action faces challenges; a group of Asian-American students is currently suing Harvard University, saying its admission policy puts them at a disadvantage. This suit is advancing despite the Supreme Court‘s 2016 ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which upheld the legality of the practice.
“This is a wholly political attack,” Anurima Bhargava, who led civil rights enforcement in schools under President Barack Obama, told The Times. “And our schools are the place where our communities come together, so our schools have to continue to promote diversity and address segregation, as the U.S. Constitution demands.”
Meanwhile, Harvard spokesperson Melodie Jackson told The Times that the school will “continue to vigorously defend its right, and that of all colleges and universities, to consider race as one factor among many in college admissions, which has been upheld by the Supreme Court for more than 40 years.”