In the News: Justice Dept. to Take On Affirmative Action in College Admissions

The Justice Department is preparing to investigate universities for racial discrimination in their affirmative action policies, reports Charlie Savage of the New York Times.*

Savage explains:

The Supreme Court has ruled that the educational benefits that flow from having a diverse student body can justify using race as one factor among many in a “holistic” evaluation, while rejecting blunt racial quotas or race-based point systems. But what that permits in actual practice by universities — public ones as well as private ones that receive federal funding — is often murky.

A recent Education Next forum takes a close look at legal arguments over the use of racial classifications beginning with the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling outlawing school segregation.

While conservatives view Brown as prohibiting the government from using racial classifications except in extraordinary circumstances, liberals believe the ruling leaves ample room for elected officials to take race into account when seeking to promote equal opportunity. Which interpretation prevails will continue to determine the extent to which public colleges can use race as a factor in admissions decisions, as well as the scope of school districts’ efforts to create more integrated schools and classrooms.

In the new issue of Education Next, legal scholars examine this debate over whether the Constitution is colorblind through the lens of the education rulings of the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia.

—Education Next

*When this story first broke, it was characterized (in the New York Times article) as an effort to fight discrimination against white applicants, however, the Justice Department has stated that it will be investigating a claim of discrimination against an Asian-American student.

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