(CBS News/AP) — The Justice and Education Departments are rescinding Obama-era policies that advocate the use of race in college admissions. The departments wrote a “Dear Colleague” letter to announce the withdrawal of seven documents released during the Obama administration that laid out the legal framework for the affirmative action policies.
“The Departments have reviewed the documents and have concluded that they advocate policy preferences and positions beyond the requirements of the Constitution, Title IV, and Title VI,” according to the letter, which was released Friday afternoon.
The Education and Justice Departments concluded that the Obama documents exceed “plain legal requirements” and are therefore “inconsistent with governing principles for agency guidance documents.” The letter goes on to maintain that “protections from discrimination on the basis of race” remain in place, though, and those protections would continue to be vigorously enforced.
The withdrawal of the Obama-era guidance constitutes a return to the George W. Bush-era policy discouraging affirmative action programs and instead encouraging the use of race-neutral alternatives, like percentage plans and economic diversity programs. The Trump administration signaled Tuesday that it planned to reinstate the Bush philosophy.
Civil liberties groups immediately decried the move, saying it went against decades of court rulings that permit colleges and universities to take race into account.
“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,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement.
In 2016, the Supreme Court upheld the right of colleges and universities to use diversity in their admissions criteria. The opinion, written by retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, granted affirmative action policies a narrow victory by permitting race to be among the factors considered in the college admission process.
Kennedy wrote that the University of Texas’ admission plan was in line with past court decisions that allowed for the consideration of race to promote diversity on college campuses.
The ruling bitterly disappointed conservatives who thought that Kennedy would be part of a Supreme Court majority to outlaw affirmative action in education. Justice Antonin Scalia died after the court heard arguments in the case but before the decision was handed down.
Eight states already prohibit the use of race in public college admissions: Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington.
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