Biden administration drops Trump-era discrimination lawsuit against Yale

Lawsuit had claimed Yale discriminates against Asian American and white applicants


The Biden administration announced on Wednesday it had dropped a discrimination lawsuit against Yale University, which alleged that the institution was illegally discriminating against Asian American and white applicants.

While a judge must still sign off on the decision, justice department officials noted in the two-sentence filing in the US district court in Connecticut that it would voluntarily dismiss the action that had been filed by Donald Trump’s administration in October.

Federal prosecutors under Donald Trump had argued the university violates civil rights laws when it “discriminates based on race and national origin in its undergraduate admissions process”, and that “race is the determinative factor in hundreds of admissions decisions each year”.

“Yale is gratified that the US justice department has dropped its lawsuit challenging Yale College’s admissions practices,” a spokesperson, Karen Peart, said. “We are also pleased that the justice department has withdrawn its notice of violation of Title VI and its notice of noncompliance.”

The department’s investigation – which stemmed from a 2016 complaint against Yale and its fellow elite universities Brown and Dartmouth – also found that Yale used race as a factor in multiple steps of the admissions process, and that the school “racially balances its classes”.

Before, department officials had signed on to a legal challenge of Harvard University’s race-based admission criteria on similar grounds. But a US court of appeals judge ruled that although the school’s admission process was flawed, it was not on account of racial bias or conscious prejudice.

In a statement, the justice department confirmed it had dismissed the lawsuit “in light of all available facts”, including the November 2020 decision to reject the Harvard challenge. Under current law, schools are responsible for demonstrating that their race-based application process follows legal guidelines.

The decision is the latest move by Biden’s justice department to change the White House’s official position on several cases pending in federal courts, including pausing arguments in cases involving the US-Mexico border wall and rulings on asylum policy.

Yale, meanwhile, had maintained that its selection criteria look at “the whole person when selecting whom to admit among the many thousands of highly qualified applicants”. The school added it had complied with decades of legal precedent decided by the US supreme court.

In recent years, conservatives have worked to shift the court to the right – swiftly replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Amy Coney Barrett after Ginsburg’s death in September – in order to sway decisions in their favor, including striking down the use of affirmative action.

Still, the court has ruled colleges and universities may consider race in admissions decisions, but that it must be done in a narrowly tailored way to promote diversity. The use of race must also be done within a limited scope of time.

Edward Blum, president of Students for Fair Admissions, has since announced that the non-profit would file a new lawsuit against Yale. The conservative, anti-affirmative action lawyer called it “disappointing” that the government had withdrawn from the case.

“Discriminatory admissions policies like Yale’s must be challenged in federal court,” Blum said in a statement.

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