President Donald Trump’s administration announced on Tuesday that it is rescinding multiple policies made by former President Barack Obama’s administration to encourage race as a factor in college admissions.
The decision was announced in a joint letter by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Divisions. It specified seven guidances on affirmative action that had been made to increase diversity in schools.
The letter said those guidances went beyond legal limits and were based on ideas rather than facts.
“The documents advocate specific policies and procedures for educational institutions to adopt, analyze a number of hypotheticals, and draw conclusions about whether the actions in those hypotheticals would violate” citizens’ constitutional rights, the letter states.
The guidances were among 24 documents that were rescinded by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday after they were deemed “unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper.”
“In the Trump administration, we are restoring the rule of law. That’s why in November I banned this practice at the Department and we began rescinding guidance documents that were issued improperly or that were simply inconsistent with current law,” Sessions said in a statement. “Today we are rescinding 24 more and continuing to put an end to unnecessary or improper rulemaking.”
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, in a statement obtained by HuffPost, also defended the administration’s efforts as sticking to what’s constitutionally legal.
“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,” DeVos said. “Schools should continue to offer equal opportunities for all students while abiding by the law.”
News of the Trump administration’s removal of those guidances was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) was quick to condemn initial reports of the guidance removals on Tuesday, calling the anticipated move “yet another attack on the principles of equal access and opportunity.”
“Racial diversity is not only key to preparing our nation’s young people for the global economy, but it also exposes students to new ideas and perspectives, which are essential to a well-rounded education,” Todd A. Cox, policy director for the LDF, said in a statement. “We urge all schools ― from K-12 to higher education ― not to be dissuaded in their efforts to pursue equal access and opportunity as part of their educational mission.”
Cox further expressed concern about the policy changes in the wake of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement news. Kennedy’s departure opens the door for Trump to appoint his replacement, who is expected to shift the balance of the court more conservative.
“This underscores the need to proceed slowly and deliberately in choosing and vetting the next Supreme Court justice, which should happen no sooner than the electorate has had a chance to exercise its voice in the next election,” Cox said. “Moving quickly with the nomination process threatens to jeopardize hard-fought civil rights advancements. We must ensure that the Court continues to advance diversity and protect equal opportunity for students of color.”
The Trump administration’s plans to change policies come as the U.S. Justice Department considers a case about whether Harvard University is illegally discriminating against Asian-American students by limiting the number it accepts. That’s despite those applicants generally achieving better academic records than other ethnic groups, according to the complaint under review.
Harvard has denied limiting its number of Asian-American students and accuses the lawsuit’s plaintiffs of oversimplifying its admissions process.
That lawsuit, first filed in late 2014 by conservative advocate Edward Blum, who is white, is expected to go to trial in October. It has been criticized as working to undo affirmative action measures that support historically disadvantaged minority groups.
It isn’t the first major lawsuit to arise in recent years against such practices.
In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that race can be a consideration for college admissions, following an argument by a white woman who felt discriminated against in her application to a University of Texas program in 2008. Blum was an advocate for that woman’s suit.
This story has been updated to include the justice and education departments’ announcement confirming the policies’ removal.