Hint of Affirmative-Action Focus at DOJ Spurs Records Demand

MANHATTAN (CN) – Hoping to shed light on reports that there is a new focus at the Justice Department against affirmative-action admissions policies at U.S. colleges and universities, The New York Times has taken its document hunt to court.

Filed Thursday with a federal judge in Manhattan, the new complaint points to an Aug. 1, 2017, article by Charlie Savage that the Department of Justice was “seeking lawyers for a new project involving ‘investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.’”

The phrase “intentional race-based discrimination” has been reported to appear as de facto code words for affirmative-action policies, which Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others have characterized as anti-white.

Though administration officials have disputed this account, Savage says the announcement suggests that President Donald Trump and his administration plan “to use DOJ resources to investigate and sue universities over affirmative action admissions policies that allegedly discriminate against white applicants.”

Similar policy changes have been attempted under Trump with regard to voting rights, gay rights and police reforms, Savage reported.

The Times submitted a request with the Justice Department on Aug. 10 seeking three classes of data under the Freedom of Information Act.

Specifically at issue are any emails, text messages or other documents that either Rachel Brand or Jesse Panuccio in the Office of the Associate Attorney General sent to John Gore, Kathy Toomey, Eric Treene or Tom Wheeler in the Civil Rights Division, between Jan. 20, 2017 and the present, containing any of the following terms: “admissions, affirmative action,’ Blum, Center for Equal Opportunity, Chapel Hill, Clegg, college, Department of Education, Education Department, Harvard, North Carolina, OCR, O.C.R., Office for Civil Rights, Princeton, PFR, P.F.R., Project on Fair Representation, reverse discrimination, SFA, S.F.A., Students for Fair Admissions, UNC, U.N.C., university, and 17-CRT-DTL-012.”

Savage says he agreed to narrow his request to the Department of Education to the “generally understood meanings of the terms,” later further narrowing his request to the Department of Education to records relating to “cases/complaints/discussion” of “college and university affirmative action/race conscious admissions policies,” and to the names of specific individuals.

Saying the 30-day window to respond has passed, Savage wants the court to intervene.

The Times and Savage are represented by in-house counsel David McCraw. Savage has compiled a list of his multiple open FOIA cases on his website.

 Department of Justice spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores noted in reaction to the lawsuit that the press has inaccurately reported the August personnel posting in the Civil Rights Division. 

“The posting sought volunteers to investigate one administrative complaint filed by a coalition of 64 Asian-American associations in May 2015 that the prior administration left unresolved,” Flores said in an email. “The complaint alleges racial discrimination against Asian Americans in a university’s admissions policy and practices. This Department of Justice has not received or issued any directive, memorandum, initiative, or policy related to university admissions in general. The Department of Justice is committed to protecting all Americans from all forms of illegal race-based discrimination.”

The Justice Department disputes that its personnel posting reflects “a new policy or program or any changes to longstanding DOJ policy.”

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