Department of Justice Sues Yale University in Federal Court Over Use of Affirmative Action
The Department of Justice has followed through on its longstanding threat to file a lawsuit against Yale University for its affirmative action practices. DOJ alleges that Yale's admission practices illegally discriminate against white and Asian applicants in violation of federal civil rights law. This is another attempt by the Trump Administration to root out what it believes to be discrimination in the college application process. The lawsuit comes after Yale refused DOJ's demand that it stop using race as a factor in the admissions process.
Colleges Have Been Using Affirmative Action in Admission for Decades
Colleges have long used race to help determine the composition of their entering classes. The policy is called affirmative action. In practice, it may result in students being admitted who have lower test scores than the class average. However, colleges argue that diversity furthers a legitimate educational interest. As a result, they look at the applicant's race as part of the admissions process so the school can avoid having a homogenous educational environment. This policy has been subject to controversy and lawsuits from people who say that it is being used as a quota system to admit certain numbers of minorities.
The Supreme Court has already ruled that affirmative action in educational institutions is legal so long as race is one factor in admission instead of the only factor. However, opponents of affirmative action are searching for ways to overturn the policy. They sense that they have the advantage on the Supreme Court, since there are at least two new Justices since the last time the Court heard an affirmative action case. Now, opponents are doing everything that they can to fight the policy to spark a legal battle that can make it to the Supreme Court.
Over time, the Supreme Court has cut back on the use of affirmative action. Now, the Court holds that it may be used in a narrowly tailored way. However, even that does not satisfy opponents of the practice. Numerous groups have filed suit against universities challenging admissions practices. The Trump Administration is backing a lawsuit filed against Harvard for similar reasons.
The Department of Education has focused on undoing some of the Obama-era guidance that permitted affirmative action practices. It has launched an investigation into Princeton University for its admissions, claiming that they have had lapses in their affirmative action admissions practices.
DOJ Claims that Yale Discriminated against White and Asian Students
Here, the DOJ launched its own investigation and claims that it found that Yale used race illegally in hundreds of admissions. The end result is that DOJ says that white and Asian students have a lower chance of being admitted to the prestigious institution. DOJ claims that whites and Asians have 10-25% of the chance that African-American students have of being admitted to Yale. While the university argues that its practices comply with Supreme Court precedent, the DOJ claims that Yale does not use any standards and ends up with admissions decisions based entirely on race. DOJ also alleges that Yale relies upon race-based stereotypes on their admissions and furthers these stereotypes with their admissions decisions.
DOJ is seeking an end to the use of these practices. Yale believes that affirmative action is both constitutional and helpful to achieving a diverse class. Accordingly, the university has already said that it will vigorously defend the lawsuit in court. All the other Ivy League schools that have been challenged over their practices are also taking legal steps to defend themselves.
It is unclear how this lawsuit will be affected by the upcoming election. As Joe Bide is handily leading in the polls, there is a strong chance that leadership of the Department of Justice will be changing in January. A new Department of Justice is not obligated to continue the lawsuit in court. Moreover, a new DOJ is allowed to reverse positions that it has taken in other lawsuits. Thus, it is reasonable to expect that DOJ would drop this lawsuit very quickly if Biden wins the elections. However, if Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed as the sixth conservative justice on the Supreme Court, it is very likely that more test cases will be filed in the hopes of reaching the Court and persuading it to overturn affirmative action. The policy that has been in place for decades at major academic institutions is now very much in danger.
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