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Democrats Press Trump Administration on Plans for Affirmative Action

By Alyson Klein — August 21, 2017 1 min read
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Top Democrats in Congress on education and justice issues want answers on just how the Trump administration is planning to proceed when it comes to race-based college admissions.

Reps. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and John Conyers, D-Mich., along with Senators Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., sent a letter to both U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking for more information on how their departments plan to approach “cases and matters involving systemic civil rights abuses and racial diversity in college and university admissions.”

The letter, dated Aug. 18, comes in the wake of an Aug. 1 New York Times story, which reported that the DOJ was planning to invest resources and possibly pursue legal action against colleges and universities that put a premium on racial diversity in admissions. A DOJ spokesman said in response to that story that the agency was looking for help in investigating a 2015 complaint filed by more than 60 Asian-American associations that went unaddressed by the Obama administration.

So far, the Education Department hasn’t provided details to reporters on just what role it plans to play, if any, in a potential rethinking of affirmative action policies.

The lawmakers want some specifics on next steps. And they’re worried a move to potentially weaken affirmative action in college admissions is part of a broader push to erode federal civil rights protections.

Here’s a snippet from the letter:

This is the latest effort by this Administration to step away from enforcing the protections provided under the Civil Rights Act and instead promote policies that undermine civil rights protections and your Departments’ Civil Rights Offices. The Supreme Court has made it clear that racial diversity is a compelling state interest and that it is in our national interest that talented students from a variety of backgrounds get a close look and a fair chance at overcoming obstacles to higher education.

DeVos’ response? “As the secretary has said previously, the courts have opined on this issue and nothing has changed at the Department,” a spokeswoman said. "[The Office for Civil Rights] will continue to evaluate complaints under Title VI according to Supreme Court precedent.”