The administration of president George W. Bush, a Republican, had similarly issued race-neutral admissions guidance.
In 2016, a divided Supreme Court upheld the use of race-based admissions in colleges, deciding that such policies do not necessarily violate the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause.
Arguing that Obama went too far in advocating for the use of race in education, the US Departments of Education and Justice withdrew at least seven documents that offered colleges and universities, along with elementary and secondary schools, guidance on how to avoid racial segregation and diversify their campuses. This wasn't necssarily at odds with Court precedent, but it very well could have sent a message to schools that diversity at all costs was the top priority.
A formal announcement was expected later Tuesday from the Justice and Education departments, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the new guidance ahead of its release. "We still have all of the Supreme Court rulings that would influence how we handle this".
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In November, Mr. Sessions issued a memo barring Justice Department components from using guidance documents to circumvent the rulemaking process.
Anurima Bhargava, who headed civil rights enforcement in schools for the Justice Department under President Barack Obama and co-authored the Obama-era guidance, said that the policy withdrawal was timed for brief filings in the Harvard litigation, due at the end of the month.
The head of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) hammered the Trump administration on Tuesday for revoking federal guidelines that encourage colleges to consider race in their admissions determinations, calling the move an unveiled attack on minorities.
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The Department of Justice is now investigating Harvard's use of race in admissions; specifically, whether the school is holding Asian-American students to a higher standard.
Students for Fair Admissions, a nonprofit opposed to affirmative action, said in a study that Harvard routinely assigns lower scores to Asian students in subjective rating categories meant to measure attributes such as likability, courage and kindness, putting them at a major disadvantage compared with white students. The Supreme Court has weighed the issue of affirmative action several times, most recently reaffirming it in 2016 but leaving an opening for future legal challenges.
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The Supreme Court has been generally accepting of considering race in admissions decisions. In an April court filing, siding with Blum's group, the Justice Department requested that Harvard disclose its records on its admissions practices publicly, a move that Harvard's attorney William Lee called "perplexing". With his retirement, a conservative justice appointed by President Donald Trump could vote to ban affirmative action.
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"This is not a change in the law, this is not congressional action or a ruling from the Supreme Court", he said.