Guest Editorial: Upholding Affirmative Action

The Biden administration was right to drop the Trump administration’s discrimination lawsuit against Yale University, which alleged the Ivy League school was illegally discriminating against Asian American and White applicants.

Under the Trump administration, the government accused Yale in October of violating civil rights laws because it “discriminates based on race and national origin in its undergraduate admissions process, and that race is the determinative factor in hundreds of admissions decisions each year.”

The investigation stemmed from a 2016 complaint by the New Jersey-based Asian American Coalition for Education against Yale, Brown and Dartmouth.

Yale said its practices comply with decades of Supreme Court precedent and that it looks at “the whole person” when deciding which applicants to admit.

A Justice Department spokesperson said in a statement that it was dropping the suit “in light of all available facts, circumstances and legal developments” but didn’t specify further. The government also notified Yale that it had withdrawn its determination letter that the university discriminated based on race and national origin.

The change in administrations brought an end to the suit, but the challenge to college admissions policies that take race into account is alive in a case against Harvard’s practices. The challengers have lost at each round in the lower courts, but their appeal is expected in the coming weeks at the Supreme Court, where a conservative majority may be more receptive.

“The challenge to race-based affirmative action in higher education will continue regardless of any change in the Department of Justice,” said Edward Blum, the president of Students for Fair Admissions, which filed the lawsuit against Harvard. The department, under President Donald Trump, had backed the challenge in the lower courts.

Yale used race as one of many factors in the admissions process, a practice that has been previously upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has ruled colleges and universities may consider race in admissions decisions, but has said that must be done in a narrowly tailored way to promote diversity and should be limited in time. Schools also bear the burden of showing why their consideration of race is appropriate.

The Justice Department under the Biden administration made the right decision for civil rights.

“It has been proven in the courts that race-conscious admissions programs are lawful, and Black students and other students of color who come from all walks of life can rest a little easier knowing our government is looking to lift them up, not divide and suppress,” said David Hinojosa, director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The group’s president, Kristen Clarke, is Biden’s nominee to run the Justice Department’s civil rights division. Hinojosa is right.

The Justice Department rightly recognizes that race-conscious admissions are both lawful and necessary to ensure institutions are open and available to all students.

Affirmative Action is a tool to address decades of systemic and pervasive racist policies and practices against Black Americans in colleges and in the workplace. Affirmative action was later expanded to include other groups that have faced historic and persistent discrimination.

To remedy past discrimination, race must be considered in the present and future policies and practices. Affirmative action has helped to diversify the nation’s elite colleges and the work force.
As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in 1978, “In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way. And in order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently.”

(Reprinted from The Philadelphia Tribune)

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