Black elected officials and civil rights groups are screaming that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has done exactly what his record displays, after an alleged memo surfaced that the Department of Justice will go after affirmative action.
The internal memo, which the New York Times reported on Tuesday, Aug. 1, hints that the Trump administration will redirect the department’s resources to investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white students.
Reps. Bobby Scott (Va.-03) and John Conyers Jr. (Mich.-13) said they are dismayed, but not surprised, by the report.
“What is already clear is the Trump administration’s public record of attacking civil rights protections on multiple fronts,” the two said in a joint statement. “While we cannot comment on the veracity of this alleged memo, we are deeply concerned by news reports that the Department of Justice intends to challenge the application of affirmative action programs in colleges and universities.”
The congressmen said they led 86 members of the House in an amicus brief in support of affirmative action programs in higher education.
“We were one of nearly 70 organizations to take the same position, including retired Chiefs of Staff of our nation’s Armed Services, leading Fortune 500 companies, academics, 19 state governors, the faith community and many others,” they said. “The position that we took was ultimately affirmed by the Supreme Court — the consideration of race and ethnicity to achieve diversity in admissions is a constitutional and is a compelling state interest that can be achieved through narrowly tailored means.”
The two lawmakers said the Trump administration continues to be a threat to standing civil rights, whether it be the Justice Department’s decision to examine the use of consent decrees with state and local police departments, which are designed to reduce instances of police brutality and discriminatory treatment, or Sessions’ decision to return to the harsh application of mandatory minimum sentences, which have been proven to be racially discriminatory.
“The Trump administration has not wasted any opportunity to roll back existing civil rights protections for underrepresented minorities,” the statement said. “Further, the administration’s reactionary efforts were signaled in the White House’s proposed budget to reduce or eliminate funding tied to the enforcement of federal civil rights laws. The Trump administration’s budget undermines the constitutional promise of Brown v. Board of Education by cutting federal funding to support public schools that serve our nation’s poorest students.”
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said that by the Justice Department assembling a team of attorneys in the front office of the Civil Rights Division to focus on so-called “intentional race-based discrimination,” the department is laying the groundwork to attack policies that help promote racial diversity at colleges and universities.
“Throughout his career, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has pushed efforts to end affirmative action programs and he has a clear record of hostility to racial diversity,” Clarke said. “We will not stand by idly as this administration continues to hijack and obstruct this division’s core civil rights mission.”
Leon Russell, chairman of the NAACP board of directors, agreed that the Justice Department’s covert decision to make higher education more difficult for African-Americans to attain is underhanded and won’t be tolerated.
“The Supreme Court has ruled time and time again that affirmative action policies are consistent with our Constitution,” he said. “For the Justice Department to even suggest otherwise is not only disrespectful to the highest court in the land, it’s un-American and plain old nasty.”