Trump administration rescinds Obama-era guidance on race in college admissions

On Tuesday, the Trump administration rescinded a set of Obama-era policies that promoted using race to achieve diversity in schools, teeing up new battle lines over admissions standards.

While the decision does not change current US law on affirmative action, it provides a strong illustration of the administration's position on an issue that could take on renewed attention with the departure of Justice Anthony Kennedy from the Supreme Court.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the official announcement Tuesday afternoon.

"The American people deserve to have their voices heard and a government that is accountable to them. When issuing regulations, federal agencies must abide by constitutional principles and follow the rules set forth by Congress and the President," Sessions said. "In previous administrations, however, agencies often tried to impose new rules on the American people without any public notice or comment period, simply by sending a letter or posting a guidance document on a website. That's wrong, and it's not good government."

The move comes as a closely watched court battle over Harvard's admissions policies — which has emerged as the next front in the fight over race-based admissions — heats up. Civil rights groups see the Trump administration's decision as part of a larger effort to scrap affirmative action, which has been upheld repeatedly by the Supreme Court, though that could change with the appointment of a new justice soon to be picked by President Donald Trump.

The Justice Department announced it was eliminating 24 federal guidance documents that it deemed "unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper."

Seven of those were documents issued jointly with the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights under the Obama administration that called on school superintendents and colleges to consider race when trying to diversify their campuses.

Universities, however, were already vowing to stick with their admissions policies, despite the Trump administration reversal.

At the same time some documents were removed, the administration restored on the Education Department's website George W. Bush-era guidance that “strongly encourages the use of race-neutral methods” in admissions.

The affirmative action move is one of the first by the Education Department's new civil rights chief, Kenneth Marcus, who was confirmed by the Senate last month. Marcus previously led a Jewish advocacy group that contended in a Supreme Court filing that "race conscious admission standards are unfair to individuals, and unhealthy for society at large."

He wrote in a Dear College letter about the decision Tuesday that the Obama guidelines "advocate policy preferences and positions beyond the requirements of the Constitution, Title IV, and Title VI."

Education Department officials did not respond to requests for comment. The administration's plans on the guidance were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

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