Skip to navigationSkip to content
180 DEGREE TURN

The Trump administration is reversing Obama-era policies on affirmative action in schools

Affirmative action protest 2015
Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
A demonstrator holds a sign aloft as the affirmative action in university admissions case was being heard at the Supreme Court in 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
By Aamna Mohdin, Heather Timmons
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The Trump administration is rolling back Obama’s policies on affirmative action in colleges.

In a joint-letter, the Education and Justice Departments announced on Tuesday (July 3) that they will rescind seven guidance documents focused on affirmative action, dating back to the Obama administration. The guidance encouraged universities to consider race as a factor in promoting diversity in their student admissions. They showed universities how to legally factor in a student’s race among other factors, including granting admission preferences to students who came from certain schools based on demographic data.

“In the Trump administration, we are restoring the rule of law,” attorney general Jeff Sessions said in a statement. He criticized previous administrations for using guidance documents “to impose new rules on the American people without any public notice or comment period.”

As Heather Timmons writes, these seven affirmative action policies were among 24 documents rescinded by the Department of Justice yesterday:

The others did things like provide guidance to homeowners, law enforcement, and small businesses. They include an informal guide to preventing employment discrimination, and even a mortgage guide for homebuyers that encourages them to “shop, compare, negotiate!” The first seven refer to how juveniles should be treated by courts and in detention facilities.
This isn’t the first time Sessions has deleted guidelines issued by previous justice departments. Last December, he purged a trove of legal advice including a Ronald Reagan-era notice saying it was illegal to ship certain guns across state lines, part of his stated policy to purge what Sessions called “defacto regulations.” The publication and rescinding of guidance by successive administrations do not have the force of law, but showcase the administration’s official position on the matter.
The Department of Justice has already removed most of the 24 items completely from its website, and there’s no longer even a historical record of what they said on US government websites. When available, Quartz has linked to copies of these documents that were downloaded elsewhere. Here’s the list:
October 20, 2010 OJJDP Memorandum re Status Offenders and the JDDPA (sic) 404. A 2015 version is here.
OJJDP Guidance Manual: Audit of Compliance Monitoring Systems 404
BJA State Criminal Alien Assistance Program Guidelines, 2016 (no longer on the web)
December 14, 2010 Looking for the Best Mortgage.
April 30, 2006. Federal Protections Against National Origin Discrimination
Approx. July 2009. Look at the Facts, Not at the Faces:  Your Guide to Fair Employment. The 2011 version is here.
Draft Language Access Planning and Technical Assistance Tool for Courts, December 18, 2012.

In 2016, the US Supreme Court upheld affirmative action, allowing schools to consider race as part of its admissions process. But those in Trump’s administration strongly advocate for the use of race-neutral methods to assign places in schools. The retirement of justice Anthony Kennedy gives the Trump administration an opportunity to tip the Supreme Court in its favor on the issue. This has some wondering whether the US will be entering an era where affirmative action is without much federal support.

The rescinding of the guidance comes during a particularly thorny time for affirmative action. Harvard university is currently being sued by Asian-American students who say the school has a long history of discriminating against them to maintain slots for students of other races. The students claim the university consistently rates Asian-Americans much lower on personality traits such as likability.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.