Trump Administration Denies Attack on Affirmative Action

The New York Times published a report Tuesday night revealing that the U.S. Justice Department plans to redirect resources to investigate, and potentially sue, colleges and universities over their affirmative action admissions policies.

The report cited an internal announcement to the Justice Department's civil rights division seeking lawyers for a project on "investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions." According to the Times, the department's new effort would likely be run out of its front office, which is staffed by political appointees, rather than the part of the department staffed by career officials.

On Wednesday, the Trump administration quickly pushed back against the story, but confirmed that the Justice Department is investigating a complaint filed by Asian-American groups accusing Harvard University of racial bias in admissions. The internal document cited by the Times was a call for volunteers to work on the complaint, not a sweeping policy change, a department spokeswoman said Wednesday.

"The posting sought volunteers to investigate one administrative complaint filed by a coalition of 64 Asian-American associations in May 2015 that the prior Administration left unresolved," Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement. Those groups, led by the Asian-American Coalition for Education, filed complaints with both the Education and Justice departments alleging that Harvard discriminated against Asian-American applicants based on their race. The Education Department's Office of Civil Rights dismissed the complaint in July 2015, citing an ongoing lawsuit against the university over similar issues. But the complaint remains pending with the Civil Rights Division at DOJ.

"This Department of Justice has not received or issued any directive, memorandum, initiative, or policy related to university admissions in general," Flores said in the statement. "The Department of Justice is committed to protecting all Americans from all forms of illegal race-based discrimination."


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