On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that it had obtained an internal Justice Department document which indicated that the Trump administration may think that affirmative action discriminates against white college applicants.
According to the Times, the document obtained by the paper consisted of an internal announcement to the civil rights division of the Justice Department. The announcement suggested that the Department was seeking lawyers to work on a new project to conduct "investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions."
As the paper pointed out, the announcement did not specify whom the department considers at risk of discrimination as a result of collegiate policies. However, many news outlets and experts both for and against affirmative action policies believe that the announcement was likely referring to supposed discrimination faced by white college students.
As Pacific Standard reported, based on the wording of the announcement, it is likely that the new project will be taking a closer look at the impact of college affirmative action admissions programs; these programs attempt to make up for the disadvantages oftentimes faced by minority students, who receive college degrees at a lower rate. Strong reactions abounded when news broke of the announcement. As CNN reported, Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, promised that the organization would be taking action if what is seemingly proposed in the document comes to fruition.
From Brown v. Board of Education to Fisher v. UT Austin, LDF has fought to ensure that every child is afforded an equal opportunity to succeed, and we will bring the full force of the law if this Justice Department attempts to resegregate our institutions of higher learning.
The Times also reported that Kristen Clarke, the president of the liberal Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, criticized the announcement for being "misaligned with the [civil rights] division's longstanding priorities."
Clarke also added that, if implemented, she believes the project could create significant problems for colleges and students.
It would be a dog whistle that could invite a lot of chaos and unnecessarily create hysteria among colleges and universities who may fear that the government may come down on them for their efforts to maintain diversity on their campuses.
However, the Times also noted that some welcomed the announcement and perceive the project as "long overdue." For example, Roger Clegg, the president of the Center for Equal Opportunity who works in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, noted:
The civil rights laws were deliberately written to protect everyone from discrimination, and it is frequently the case that not only are whites discriminated against now, but frequently Asian-Americans are as well.
For its part, the Department of Justice declined to comment on the matter, stating that "The Justice Department declines to comment on personnel matters." The Times also reported that the Department refused to provide any further details about its plans or to make a representative available for comment.
Overall, it is clear that, if implemented, the project proposed in the announcement would likely engender much controversy. Time will tell if the Justice Department indeed decides to move forward with its plans.