The Trump administration sued Yale University on Thursday, accusing the school of violating federal civil rights law by discriminating against applicants based on their race.
The Justice Department lawsuit is the most drastic action the Trump administration has taken to combat the use of race in university admissions, a practice that has repeatedly been upheld by the Supreme Court. But race-based affirmative action is considered vulnerable under the conservative majority on the high court, which would expand further if the Senate confirms President Donald Trump’s nominee, Amy Coney Barrett.
Legal argument: The Justice Department claims in its complaint that Yale’s admissions process has for decades run afoul of federal civil rights laws that outlaw discrimination on the basis of race.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Connecticut, says Yale’s admissions process relies on an “oversized, standardless, intentional use of race” that favors Black and Hispanic applicants at the expense of their Asian and white counterparts.
“Instead of using race in a narrow, time-limited, and targeted manner to achieve specific and defined educational goals, Yale has institutionalized its use of racial preferences as a permanent feature of its admissions process and decisions,” the complaint says.
“Yale could achieve the educational benefits of diversity exclusively through available, workable race-neutral alternatives,” the Justice Department added. Those alternatives include considering an applicant’s socio-economic status, using an applicant’s geographic location as a factor and ending special preferences for legacy admissions.
Yale’s defense: Peter Salovey, president of Yale University, defended the school’s use of race as “one element in a multi-stage examination” of an applicant as a way to create a diverse student body.
“Yale does not discriminate against applicants of any race or ethnicity. Our admissions practices are completely fair and lawful,” he said. “Yale’s admissions policies will not change as a result of the filing of this baseless lawsuit. We look forward to defending these policies in court.”
The university has previously said its admissions practices comply with Supreme Court precedent and that it would not change them based on the Trump administration’s “meritless” accusations.
Key context: The lawsuit comes after the Justice Department in August notified Yale that it had concluded a two-year investigation, spurred by a 2016 complaint filed by Asian American groups, into the university’s admissions decisions.
The Trump administration’s lawsuit against Yale is part of a broader effort targeting elite university admissions practices.
A federal appeals court in Boston last month heard arguments over a legal challenge, backed by the Trump administration, to Harvard University’s race-based affirmative action policies.
In 2018, the departments of Justice and Education scrapped Obama-era guidance that said colleges could consider race when trying to make campuses more diverse.
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