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U.S. Justice Department gears up to challenge affirmative action in college admissions

Focus is said to shift to investigating institutions with admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants.

The Trump administration is preparing to redirect resources of the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants.

The New York Times reports that an internal document it obtained discusses a new project involving “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”

Supporters and critics of the project say it is clearly targeting admissions programs that can give members of generally disadvantaged groups, such as black and Latino students, an edge over other applicants with comparable or higher test scores. 

The project is another sign that the civil rights division is taking on a conservative tilt under President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Justice Department declined to provide more details about its plans.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the educational benefits that flow from having a diverse student body can justify using race as one factor among many in a “holistic” evaluation, while rejecting blunt racial quotas or race-based point systems. But what that permits in actual practice by universities is often unclear.

Several  lawsuits are pending that challenge such practices at affirmative action policies at high-profile institutions.

The Supreme Court most recently addressed affirmative action admissions policies in a 2016 case, voting 4 to 3 to uphold a race-conscious program at the University of Texas at Austin.

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