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DOJ Sues Yale for ‘Institutionalized’ Illegal Discrimination Against Asians and Whites


NEW HAVEN, CT - APRIL 15: New Haven, home to Yale University, boasts many cultural offerings that attract visitors to the city.

The United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit Thursday in federal court in Connecticut against Yale University, alleging that Yale engaged in racial discrimination against “racially-disfavored applicants, including in particular most Asian and White applicants.” The complaint, which you can read in its entirety here, alleges that “Yale claims that its race discrimination is necessary to admit sufficient numbers of racially-favored applicants, mostly Black and Hispanic applicants, Yale signals that racially-favored applicants cannot compete against Asian and White applicants.”

According to the DOJ, the litigation is the result of a formal complaint it received from a coalition of over 130 Asian-American organizations, raising concerns about Yale’s discriminatory practices. In the DOJ’s pleadings to the court, it details the process by which Yale reviews and accepts applicants, and alleges that contrary to Yale’s contention that its process is “holistic,” race is a deciding factor in the school’s admissions decisions. Yale’s policies, according to the lawsuit, which are violative of federal anti-discrimination laws, constitute “institutionalized … use of racial preferences as a permanent feature of [Yale’s] admissions process and decisions.”

The lawsuit against Yale comes as no surprise, as the Trump administration accused the school of discrimination in a letter sent last August.

The nearby United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston recently heard oral arguments in a similar lawsuit against Harvard University. In that case, plaintiffs lost at trial in district court when the judge found that though Harvard’s admissions policies might be “imperfect,” they are not illegal. Although the case against the Crimson was filed by a nonprofit group, the DOJ filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs. At the time, Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division issued a statement explaining the DOJ’s position.

“Race discrimination hurts people and is never benign,” he said. “Unconstitutionally partitioning Americans into racial and ethnic blocs harms all involved by fostering stereotypes, bitterness, and division among the American people. The Department of Justice will continue to fight against illegal race discrimination.

The Trump administration’s version of fighting for racial justice seems to be proceeding with special focus on the Ivy League. In September, the Department of Education announced it was opening an investigation into Princeton University; the announcement was preceded by an open letter from Princeton’s president, acknowledging that Princeton had a history of perpetuating systemic racism and promising to do better in the future.

Many have theorized that lawsuits like the one filed against Yale could signal the beginning of the end of affirmative action policies geared toward increasing racial diversity in colleges and universities. As Law&Crime discussed previously, race may legally be used as a “plus factor” in narrow admissions decisions after an applicant’s other qualifications are reviewed and ranked. Using race as  “predominant criteria,” however, has potential to illegally disadvantage white and Asian American applicants.

[image via  Christopher Capozziello/Getty Images]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos