Civil rights groups fire back at Trump administration's investigation of affirmative action admissions

Civil rights groups are firing back Wednesday morning after the New York Times reported late Tuesday that the Justice Department is investigating and considering bringing lawsuits against universities over race-based affirmative action admissions policies that the Trump administration believes discriminate against white applicants.

"Diversity benefits communities, schools, and students from all backgrounds, especially those historically-underserved," John King, president and CEO of the Education Trust and former education secretary under Obama, said in a statement. "This is a principle affirmed by the Supreme Court and well understood in the higher education sector and business world."

RELATED: Affirmative action cases, protests

7 PHOTOS
Affirmative Action cases, protests
See Gallery
Affirmative Action cases, protests
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 15: Students protest in support of affirmative action, outside the Supreme Court during the hearing of 'Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action' on October 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. The case revolves around affirmative action and whether or not states have the right to ban schools from using race as a consideration in school admissions. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 15: A woman protests in support of affirmative action, outside the Supreme Court during the hearing of 'Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action' on October 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. The case revolves around affirmative action and whether or not states have the right to ban schools from using race as a consideration in school admissions. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 14: Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) speaks at a press conference with Jennifer Gratz, CEO of XIV Foundation, the day before going before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of 'Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action,' on October 14, 2013 in Washington, DC. 'Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action' centers around affirmative action in higher education and whether or not a state has the constitutional right to ban college admissions from giving 'preferential treatment' to potential students based on race during the admissions process. In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled in Grutter v. Bollinger stating that states have the right to consider race in the admissions process as part of an 'individualized, holistic review of each applicant's file' - whether or not the state's right to consider race is an obligation is what is at stake. In 2006 the voters of Michigan passed an amendment by 58% banning racial considerations in a college admissions process, which the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action is now fighting. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 10: People wait in line to enter the U.S. Supreme Court on October 10, 2012 in Washington, DC. Today the high court is scheduled to hear arguments on Fisher V. University of Texas at Austin, and are tasked with ruling on whether the university's consideration of race in admissions is constitutional. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 10: Travis Ballie holds a sign that reads (Diversity Works) in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on October 10, 2012 in Washington, DC. Today the high court is scheduled to hear arguments on Fisher v University of Texas at Austin, and are tasked with ruling on whether the university's consideration of race in admissions is constitutional. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 13: Students hoping for a repeal of California's Proposition 209 hold signs as they protest outside of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on February 13, 2012 in San Francisco, California. A Federal appeals court will hear arguments in a lawsuit that wants to overturn Proposition 209, a voter approved measure that prohibits affirmative action at state universities. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

He continued: "I am deeply disheartened that the Administration appears to be taking a 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."

The New York Times story cites an internal document that from the civil rights division, which is reportedly seeking lawyers interested in "investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions."

"By assembling a team of attorneys in the front office of the Civil Rights Division to focus on so-called 'intentional race-based discrimination', this Justice Department is laying the groundwork to attack policies that help promote racial diversity at colleges and universities," Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement.

RELATED: 2017 Hardest Colleges to Get Into in America

16 PHOTOS
2017 Hardest Colleges to Get Into in America
See Gallery
2017 Hardest Colleges to Get Into in America

Acceptance Rate: 8.8 %
SAT/ACT 25th Percentile SAT: 1500 ACT: 34

Acceptance Rate: 6.0 %
SAT/ACT 25th Percentile SAT: 1410 ACT: 32

Acceptance Rate 6.3 %
SAT/ACT 25th Percentile SAT: 1410 ACT: 31

Acceptance Rate 8.8 %
SAT/ACT 25th Percentile SAT: 1435 ACT: 32

Acceptance Rate 7.4 %
SAT/ACT 25th Percentile SAT: 1400 ACT: 31
Acceptance Rate 7.9 %
SAT/ACT 25th Percentile SAT: 1420 ACT: 33
Acceptance Rate 7.0 %
SAT/ACT 25th Percentile SAT: 1390 ACT: 31
Acceptance Rate 5.1 %
SAT/ACT 25th Percentile SAT: 1380 ACT: 31
Acceptance Rate 13.1 %
SAT/ACT 25th Percentile SAT: 1430 ACT: 32
Acceptance Rate 14.3 %
SAT/ACT 25th Percentile SAT: 1418 ACT: 33
Acceptance Rate 13.1 %
SAT/ACT 25th Percentile SAT: 1390 ACT: 31
Acceptance Rate 10.4 %
SAT/ACT 25th Percentile SAT: 1360 ACT: 31
Acceptance Rate 17.1 %
SAT/ACT 25th Percentile SAT: 1420 ACT: 32
Acceptance Rate 10.8 %
SAT/ACT 25th Percentile SAT: 1350 ACT: 30
Acceptance Rate 8.7 %
SAT/ACT 25th Percentile SAT: 1330 ACT: 30
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Clarke noted that this isn't the first time Attorney General Jeff Sessions has tried to curtail affirmative action policies.

"He has a clear record of hostility to racial diversity," she said. "We will not stand by idly as this administration continues to hijack and obstruct this Division's core civil rights mission."

Race-conscious affirmative action has been used for decades to address past inequities and offer students from disadvantaged minority groups – especially African-Americans and Latinos – a better chance at gaining access to college.

The policy has come under fire in recent years, and eight states already ban affirmative action admission policies.

As recently as last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the use of race as a factor for admissions is lawful in Fisher v. University of Texas. However, the opinion in the 4-3 decision, which was hailed as a huge win for affirmative action supporters, left the door open to potential future legal challenges in reminding the University of Texas – and by default other schools that use race-conscious admissions policies – that its admissions process isn't necessarily the best way to address diversity.

The court is poised to consider race-based admissions policies yet again.

Indeed, a small but growing number of schools are instead turning to preferential admissions for poor students as a work-around.

RELATED: US News: 10 colleges that receive the most applications

11 PHOTOS
US News: 10 colleges that receive the most applications
See Gallery
US News: 10 colleges that receive the most applications
1. University of California, Los Angeles

Number of applications: 92,728

U.S. News rank and category: 24 (toe), National Universities
2. University of California, Berkeley

Number of applications: 78,924

U.S. News rank and category: 20 (tie), National Universities
3. University of California, San Diego

Number of applicants: 78,056

U.S. News rank and category: 44 (tie), National Universities
4. University of California, Irvine

Number of applications: 71,768

U.S. News rank and category: 39 (tie), National Universities

5. University of California, Santa Barbara

Number of applications: 70,444

U.S. News rank and category: 37 (tie), National Universities

6. University of California, Davis

Number of applications: 64,510

U.S. News rank and category: 44 (tie), National Universities
7. San Diego State University

Number of applications: 58,970

U.S. News rank and category: 146 (tie), National Universities
 
8. California State University, Long Beach

Number of applications: 56,975

U.S. News rank and category: 35 (tie), Regional Universities (West)
9. New York Universities

Number of applications: 56,092

U.S. News rank and category: 36, National Universities
10. Boston University

Number of applications: 54,781

U.S. News rank and category: 39 (tie), National Universities
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The idea is gaining traction among those who say the admissions process is rigged against high-achieving low-income students, and that, at a time when economic diversity has eclipsed race as the primary source of disadvantage, colleges and universities should be giving preference to exactly those students.

Critics of preferential admission for poor students, however, argue that income-based policies and affirmative action aren't interchangeable and that eliminating affirmative action will significantly reduce the number of black and Latino students at the country's best schools.

"Affirmative action is rooted in our nation's fundamental commitment to equality, a commitment this Administration woefully lacks and has expressed hostility towards," Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., said in a statement.

Ifill said this is just the latest in a string of attacks from the Justice Department on civil rights, including LGBT discrimination, voter suppression and endorsing police violence.

"We will bring the full force of the law if this Justice Department attempts to resegregate our institutions of higher learning," Ifill said.

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.