Under the previous government, the Education Department emphasized the importance of diversity in educational institutions, urging them to adopt legal ways to consider race in their admission procedures, in order to achieve a healthy race-mixture on their campuses.
The Trump set up, it seems, is hell-bent on undoing all of that and returning to the pre-Obama-era guidelines that strongly advocated limits on colleges and universities when considering race.
The move, however, does not alter the existing legislation on affirmative action, but it does give a strong indication of the incumbent government’s stand on the issue that is likely to be pursued more rigorously, now that Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy has announced his retirement.
Kennedy’s departure is expected to make a, rather, lasting impact on policy decisions such as abortion and LGBT rights, for example, with this latest move to annul Affirmative Action guidelines appearing to be one such policy overhaul, directly or indirectly, related to judge’s retirement announcement.
Kennedy, who wants to give more time to his family, stated that it was “the greatest honor and privilege to serve our nation in the federal judiciary for 43 years, 30 of those years in the Supreme Court.”
Kennedy also made it a point to notify President Trump of his decision to step down.
“For a member of the legal profession, it is the highest of honors to serve on this Court,” he wrote to the US president.
“Please permit me by this letter to express my profound gratitude for having had the privilege to seek in each case how best to know, interpret and defend the Constitution and the laws that must always conform to its mandates and promises,” he said.
The announcement has triggered a flurry of activity among Senate Republicans as they scramble to announce Kennedy’s replacement, sooner rather than later – ahead of the Grand Old Party’s fight with the liberals for control of the Senate in November, this year.
Speaking to reporters on Kennedy’s impending departure, Trump referred to him as a “great justice” with “tremendous vision and heart,” going on to say that a hunt for the judge’s successor would commence “immediately.”
“The American people deserve to have their voices heard and a government that is accountable to them,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in an official announcement on Tuesday.
“When issuing regulations, federal agencies must abide by constitutional principles and follow the rules set forth by Congress and the President,” he said.
“In previous administrations, however, agencies often tried to impose new rules on the American people without any public notice or comment period, simply by sending a letter or posting a guidance document on a website. That’s wrong, and it’s not good government,” added the Attorney General.
In a separate statement, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos adopted a softer approach, without, really, expressing any adverse or disapproving comments on the previous administration.
She said that the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action policies are legitimate and should be the final guideline for addressing “this complex issue,” urging schools to pursue an equal-opportunity policy for all students alike, in a lawful manner.
“The Supreme Court has determined what affirmative action policies are constitutional, and the court’s written decisions are the best guide for navigating this complex issue. Schools should continue to offer equal opportunities for all students while abiding by the law,” said DeVos.
The Trump administration’s reversal of affirmative action isn’t only about guidelines; it is also an investigation into discrimination against Asian students, who have accused the country’s premier educational institutions of consistently and deliberately ignoring some Asian-American applicants in favor of students of other races.
According to a recent New York Times report, one scrutiny of admissions files has revealed that Harvard University has followed a consistent trend of sidelining Asian-American students to leave admission slots open for applicants of other races
“Harvard consistently rated Asian-American applicants lower than others on traits like ‘positive personality,’ likability, courage, kindness and being ‘widely respected’,” wrote NYT’s Erica L. Green, Matt Apuzzo, and Katie Benner.
The hardliners are viewing this as irrefutable proof that affirmative action is anti-Asian Americans.
Justice and Education Department conservatives are keen to do away with the use of race as a benchmark for diversity on college campuses.
With Justice Kennedy out of the picture, the Supreme Court’s swing vote will cease to exist, giving Trump the golden opportunity to nominate a successor with a leaning not only towards his administration’s viewpoint on affirmative action but, in fact, a lot of other policy changes he’s contemplating.
The move has the potential to drastically change the racial makeup of the country’s leading colleges and universities and, consequently, all educational institutions in the country.
The commander-in-chief would, obviously, do everything within his presidential means not to have an Attorney General with a soft corner for the decades-old policies that have worked towards promoting race-based admission practices in the nation’s best educational institutions.
Harvard spokeswoman Melodie Jackson told CNN that the university would “continue to vigorously defend its right, and that of all colleges and universities, to consider race as one factor among many in college admissions, which has been upheld by the Supreme Court for more than 40 years.”
Although the Tuesday announcement does not infringe on the rights of educational institutions to pursue their own policies within the ambit of the current Supreme Court precedent, civil rights activists didn’t take long to voice their frustration with the decision.
“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,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, reported CNN.
“The rescission of this guidance does not overrule forty years of precedent that affirms the constitutionality of a university’s limited use of race in college admissions. This most recent decision by the Department of Education is wholly consistent with the administration’s unwavering hostility towards diversity in our schools,” Clarke added.
Here’s how the National Education Association (NEA) reacted to the move
“Affirmative action has proven to be one of the most effective ways to create diverse and inclusive classrooms,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said in a statement.
“But by telling schools and universities that they should not use affirmative action to achieve inclusive classrooms, the Education Department has again failed our students,” Garcia said.
“President Trump has indicated he intends to appoint a nominee to the Supreme Court who will declare that affirmative action is unconstitutional in our schools.
“The Education Department’s action forecasts how much is at stake in the upcoming Supreme Court nomination process.
“Our nation must join together and fight to ensure all our students have what they need to succeed.”