News that the Justice Department is reshuffling resources in its civil rights division to go after colleges’ affirmative action policies ignited a firestorm Wednesday – with civil rights groups and Obama education officials quickly condemning the move, though it’s unclear what exactly the DOJ is planning. 

Late Tuesday, The New York Times obtained an internal DOJ job announcement that sought lawyers interested in a project on “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”

While the notice doesn’t come right out and say which races and ethnicities are considered by the Trump administration as “at risk” for discrimination, the reported implication was that Jeff Sessions’ DOJ could go after affirmative action policies. 

Those programs are meant to diversify campuses but the Times reported that the new effort could be used to sue universities over admissions that allegedly go too far and discriminate against white and Asian applicants. 

John King, former education secretary under President Obama, said he was “deeply disheartened” by the Trump administration’s “hard line against efforts to increase campus diversity rather than focusing on addressing the persistent opportunity gaps facing students of color and low-income students.”

Anurima Bhargava, who led the Educational Opportunities Section under Obama, also called the reported move a “scare tactic” intended to “drum up a bunch of fear and intimidate schools who are trying to provide a pipeline to leadership for all Americans.”

It’s not yet clear how serious or coordinated the DOJ push is, however. 

When contacted by Fox News, the DOJ stopped short of denying the existence of the job posting but insisted it wasn’t “a policy announcement.”

One senior U.S. government official also pointed out that the story in the Times appears to assume the memo refers to white students without evidence.

“Whenever there’s a credible allegation of discrimination on the basis of race, the department should look into it,” a DOJ official told Fox News. 

Supporters and critics say the DOJ push is intended to target admissions programs that give blacks and Latino students an edge over applicants with similar academic records, the Times reported.

Affirmative action policies in the United States have been controversial almost from the start and have been fought in court.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of race in college admissions for the University of Texas, rejecting a challenge brought by a white student. In that case, the court ruled in favor of the university. The ruling made it easier for public colleges and universities to justify reasons for using race in the admissions process.  


In 2015, a group of 64 Asian-American groups filed a complaint with the Department of Education against Harvard University, claiming that the Ivy-League school discriminated against them by using a race-based quota system. The group claimed Asian students were required to have SAT scores 140 points higher than white students, 270 points higher than Hispanics and 450 points higher than black students.

University of Virginia law professor Deborah Hellman told Fox News that she doesn’t believe there will be major changes to policies “under the current makeup of the court.”

“The court has recently reaffirmed this positon, so why is the Justice Department looking into bringing cases?” Hellman said.

According to the Times, the DOJ is looking to redirect resources from the department’s civil rights division. Rather than run the operation through the DOJ’s Educational Opportunities Section, it will be handled by the division’s front office which is composed of Trump’s political appointees.

Though it’s still early and the DOJ has barely acknowledged the job posting, two sources told The Washington Post that hand-picked Trump appointees will run the project because the career staffers who specialize in education issues refused to take part, saying it was a violation of the DOJ’s long-term stance on civil rights in school admission policies. 

Dennis Parker, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Radical Justice Program, said any DOJ push to roll back affirmative action policies would mark an “alarming shift in direction” that threatens progress made by civil rights advocates and the department itself. 

NAACP Legal Defense Fund Associate Director Janai Nelson told Fox News the administration’s “assault on affirmative action” is “a dismantling of the pillars of our democracy.

“This administration through this Justice Department is taking us backwards,” she said. 

Fox News’ Samantha Mendiguren, Bill Mears and Jake Gibson contributed to this report. 


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