Report: US Justice Department to probe affirmative action in college admissions

WASHINGTON, Aug 1 (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department is planning to investigate and possibly sue universities over admissions policies that discriminate against white applicants, the New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing a department document.

The internal memo seeks lawyers in the department's Civil Rights Division who are interested in working on a new project on "investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions," the Times reported.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that universities may use affirmative action admissions policies, which are intended to give minority applicants an edge in getting into college. The court has rejected racial quotas but said race could be used as one factor among many in evaluating an applicant.

RELATED: Affirmative Action cases, protests

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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)
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Critics of affirmative action say that in some cases it goes too far in discriminating against white and Asian-American applicants.

The Times said the Justice Department document does not explicitly say whom it considers at risk because of affirmative action admissions policies. But the Times reported that supporters and critics of the project said it clearly targeted admissions programs that seek to help black and Latino students.

A Justice Department spokesman told Reuters the department would not comment on personnel matters.

The Times said the document suggests the project will be run out of a part of the Civil Right Division where its political appointees work, rather than the Educational Opportunities Section, which is devoted to handling cases involving universities and is run by career civil servants. (Writing by Eric Beech; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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