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Trump administration reverses Obama on affirmative action

Trump administration reverses Obama on affirmative action

Race-blind admissions standards to be encouraged
Trump administration reverses Obama on affirmative action
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 5, 2018.
Photographer: Tom Brenner/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration will encourage the nation’s school superintendents and college presidents to adopt race-blind admissions standards, abandoning an Obama administration policy that called on universities to consider race as a factor in diversifying their campuses, Trump administration officials said.

The reversal would restore the policy set during President George W. Bush’s administration, when officials told schools that it “strongly encourages the use of race-neutral methods” for admitting students to college or assigning them to elementary and secondary schools.

Last November, Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked the Justice Department to re-evaluate past policies that he believed pushed the department to act beyond what the law, the Constitution and the Supreme Court had required, Devin M. O’Malley, a Justice Department spokesman said. As part of that process, the Justice Department rescinded seven policy guidances from the Education Department’s civil rights division Tuesday.

“The executive branch cannot circumvent Congress or the courts by creating guidance that goes beyond the law and — in some instances — stays on the books for decades,” said Devin M. O’Malley, a spokesman for the Justice Department.

The Supreme Court has steadily narrowed the ways that schools can consider race when trying to diversify their student bodies. But it has not banned the practice.

Now, affirmative action is at a crossroads. The Trump administration is moving against any use of race as a measurement of diversity in education. And the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy at the end of this month will leave the court without its swing vote on affirmative action and allow President Donald Trump to nominate a justice opposed to a policy that for decades has tried to integrate elite educational institutions.

A highly anticipated case is pitting Harvard against Asian-American students who say one of the nation’s most prestigious institutions has systematically excluded some Asian-American applicants to maintain slots for students of other races. That case is clearly aimed at the Supreme Court.

A senior Justice Department official pushed back against the idea that these decisions are not about rolling back protections for minorities. He said they are hewing the department closer to the letter of the law.

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