The Trump administration on Tuesday withdrew Obama-era policy guidelines which encouraged the consideration of race in college admissions.
The guidelines encourage colleges to voluntarily promote diversity as well as “avoid racial isolation” in their admissions practices. They were issued to provide guidance on the administration’s interpretation of many Supreme Court cases related to affirmative action.
The Trump administration signaled the rules could be on the chopping block a year ago, when the idea began searching for lawyers who were interested in investigating “intentional race-based discrimination” on college campuses. Administration lawyers are investigating a 2015 complaint alleging which Harvard University discriminates against Asian-Americans in its admissions practices.
“The Supreme Court has determined what affirmative action policies are Constitutional, as well as the Court’s written decisions are the best guide for navigating This specific complex issue,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement. “Schools should continue to offer equal opportunities for all students while abiding by the law.”
Reversing the Obama-era guidelines would likely be the latest move by the Trump administration to reshape higher education policy. In February 2017, the Justice Department withdrew two policy documents related to colleges’ enforcement of Title IX, a gender discrimination statute.
Withdrawing the guidelines could add brand-new energy to the debate over affirmative action policies, which the Supreme Court has for decades found constitutional as long as they are paired with certain restrictions regarding the importance of race in admissions decisions as well as the impact on white students.
The Supreme Court first took up the issue from the 1978 case California v. Bakke, which found which considering race in college admissions could be constitutional if the idea was one of many factors, as well as not the deciding factor by itself.
In 2003, the court held 5-4 in Grutter v. Bollinger which the University of Michigan Law School had a compelling interest in ensuring a diverse population of students. However, the court held in Gratz v. Bollinger the same year which any affirmative action policy must be narrowly tailored in a way which does not automatically grant admission to minority applicants in a way which would likely harm white applicants.
In 2016, the court again held which affirmative action was constitutional in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, though Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the opinion, noted which the policy could be required to change through “regular evaluation of data as well as consideration of student experience.”
He wrote which Texas “must tailor its approach in light of changing circumstances, ensuring which race plays no greater role than will be necessary to meet its compelling interest.”
Kennedy announced his retirement via the court last week. Trump has said he will name Kennedy’s replacement via a list of 25 conservative judges compiled by the White House.