Politics

Justice Department drops suit accusing Yale of discriminating against White and Asian applicants, in reversal from Trump era

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Key Points
  • The Department of Justice on Wednesday dropped a case against Yale University in which it alleged that the Ivy League institution was discriminating against White and Asian applicants in its admissions process.
  • The decision, announced in a filing in federal district court in Connecticut, marks a reversal from the Justice Department's stance under former President Donald Trump. President Joe Biden has made racial equity a top priority of his administration.
  • In November, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a separate lawsuit challenging Harvard University's use of race in admissions, alleging the school was discriminating against Asians.
Students walk on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

The Department of Justice on Wednesday dropped a case against Yale University in which it alleged that the Ivy League institution was discriminating against White and Asian applicants in its admissions process.

The decision, announced in a filing in federal district court in Connecticut, marks a reversal from the Justice Department's stance under former President Donald Trump, whose administration opposed education policies geared toward increasing racial diversity. President Joe Biden had made racial equity a top priority of his administration.

Yale had denied the allegations that its admissions practices were discriminatory. In a statement, spokeswoman Karen Peart said that the school was "gratified" by the DOJ's decision.

"Our admissions process has allowed Yale College to assemble an unparalleled student body, which is distinguished by its academic excellence and diversity," Peart said. 

The Justice Department under Trump targeted higher education institutions for admissions practices that factored in applicants race and country of origin.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld race-conscious admissions practices, though it has placed limits on how significant a factor race can be.

The Justice Department announced in August that a two-year investigation determined that Yale's practices were unlawful.

"Although the Supreme Court has held that colleges receiving federal funds may consider applicants' race in certain limited circumstances as one of a number of factors, the Department of Justice found Yale's use of race is anything but limited," the DOJ said in a press release at the time.

The department said that Yale used race "at multiple steps of its admissions process resulting in a multiplied effect of race on an applicant's likelihood of admission, and Yale racially balances its classes."

Factoring race into admissions processes is common among U.S. universities, though it remains controversial.

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In November, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a separate lawsuit challenging Harvard University's use of race in admissions, alleging the school was discriminating against Asians.

The Justice Department sided with Students for Fair Admissions, the group behind the lawsuit, in a friend of the court brief in that case.

Edward Blum, the conservative strategist who founded Students for Fair Admissions, said it was likely that his group would appeal its loss to the Supreme Court, where a new 6-3 conservative majority is more likely to be friendly to affirmative action challenges than past courts.

In recent years, Supreme Court challenges to affirmative action have been hard fought.

The last time the top court considered the practice, in 2016, it narrowly upheld it as applied at the University of Texas at Austin. The court's decision in that case was 4-3, and was authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, a frequent swing vote.

Since the decision in case, known as Fisher v. University of Texas, was handed down, Kennedy retired and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, also in the majority, died. In addition, three more conservative justices have joined the bench, making it more likely that the court could rule against affirmative action in the future.

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