- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Justice Department shot down allegations Wednesday that it was preparing to investigate and possibly sue colleges to stop race-based affirmative action admissions policies, saying the reports were “inaccurate.”

The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division did advertise for investigators to look into a 2015 complaint filed by Asian American applicants against Harvard University, but an official said a New York Times report suggesting a broader effort was wrong.

“This Department of Justice has not received or issued any directive, memorandum, initiative, or policy related to university admissions in general,” said Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores.

The original New York Times report spurred a firestorm of criticism aimed at the Trump administration.

“The idea that the Justice Department would sue colleges over their inclusive policies is an affront to fairness and sends a dangerous signal that it will no longer work to protect the most vulnerable,” said Dennis Parker, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Program. “It would mark an alarming shift in direction that threatens the hard-fought progress made by civil rights advocates and the department itself over the past decades.”

Democrats on Capitol Hill also weighed in, accusing the Justice Department of trying to roll back racial progress.

In the outstanding Harvard complaint, a coalition of 64 Asian-American advocacy organizations alleged that the Ivy League school “systematically discriminates” against Asian-Americans and holds them to a higher standard during the admissions process.

“Many Asian-American students who have almost perfect SAT scores, top 1 percent GPAs, plus significant awards or leadership positions in various extracurricular activities have been rejected by Harvard University and other Ivy League colleges while similarly situated applicants of other races have been admitted,” the complaint reads.

For decades, race-based affirmative action programs have been used to diversify campuses and offer students from disadvantaged minority groups, particularly black and Latino students, admission preference over others with higher test scores.

But some white and Asian students have lodged complaints over such programs, saying they’ve been put at a disadvantage in the admissions process.

The Supreme Court ruled last year that it is lawful to use race as one factor in college admissions to ensure a diverse student body, but warned that not all affirmative action programs would pass constitutional scrutiny. The challenge was brought by a white woman who said she was not accepted to the University of Texas because of her race.

“Unfortunately a lot of schools have not followed the constraints the Supreme Court set forth,” said Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, which opposes affirmative action.

But civil rights groups said affirmative action programs that aid minority students are lawful and should be protected.

“Longstanding Supreme Court precedent has upheld the constitutionality and compelling state interest of these policies, and generations of Americans have benefited from richer, more inclusive institutions of higher education,” said Vanita Gupta, a former head of the Civil Rights Division and the current president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Conservative groups that oppose affirmative action policies had earlier in the day applauded the news, though some admitted that with little known about the project it appeared to be a significant and difficult undertaking.

Conducting a widespread investigation to root out intentional discrimination in the admissions process would be difficult, said Ward Connerly, the president of the American Civil Rights Institute, and a longtime opponent of affirmative action programs.

“That is going to be hard to prove if not impossible to prove,” he said. “[Universities] are going to argue that it was not their intention to discriminate and their intention was to treat everybody equally.”

But, he said, “The journey of 1,000 miles has to start someplace.”

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