Trump Administration Plans to Rescind Obama-Era Guidance on Use of Race in College Admissions

The Trump administration is planning to rescind a set of Obama-era policies that promote using race to achieve diversity in schools, a source familiar with the plans tells CNN.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill, June 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

While the decision does not change current US law on affirmative action, it provides a strong illustration of the administration’s position on an issue that could take on renewed attention with the departure of Justice Anthony Kennedy from the Supreme Court.

“The executive branch cannot circumvent Congress or the courts by creating guidance that goes beyond the law and — in some instances — stays on the books for decades,” Justice Department spokesperson Devin O’Malley told CNN in a statement. “Last year, the Attorney General initiated a review of guidance documents, which resulted in dozens of examples — including today’s second tranche of rescissions — of documents that go beyond or are inconsistent with the Constitution and federal law. The Justice Department remains committed to enforcing the law and protecting all Americans from all forms of illegal race-based discrimination.”

The Education Department did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment.

The move, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, comes as the administration has thrown its weight behind a student group that accuses Harvard University of discriminating against Asian-Americans in its admissions process.

Last year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he was ending the practice of the Justice Department issuing “guidance documents” that have the “effect of adopting new regulatory requirements or amending the law,” without going through the formal rulemaking process. As a result, 25 documents were rescinded in December.

The guidance that will be reversed Tuesday provided examples of different educational contexts within which institutions could permissibly consider race.

Tuesday’s reversal also does not affect what a school decides to do on its own within the confines of current Supreme Court precedent, but civil rights groups swiftly reacted with disappointment.

“We condemn the Department of Education’s politically motivated attack on affirmative action and deliberate attempt to discourage colleges and universities from pursuing racial diversity at our nation’s colleges and universities,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The rescission of this guidance does not overrule forty years of precedent that affirms the constitutionality of a university’s limited use of race in college admissions. This most recent decision by the Department of Education is wholly consistent with the administration’s unwavering hostility towards diversity in our schools.”