The Justice Department on Wednesday withdrew a lawsuit against Yale that charged the university with discriminating against Asian-American and white applicants for admission, another reversal by the new administration of a Trump-era policy.
The Trump administration had made race-based college admissions a target, and today’s action suggests the Biden administration may be prepared to retreat from that policy.
Supporters of the Trump administration’s lawsuit assert that Asian-Americans and whites are being held to higher admissions standards at a number of elite colleges. In 2019, a federal judge rejected claims that Harvard had intentionally discriminated against Asian-American applicants, but the plaintiffs are expected to file a petition to the Supreme Court.
“Yale is gratified that the U.S. Justice Department has dropped its lawsuit challenging Yale College’s admissions practices,” Karen N. Peart, a spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Our admissions process has allowed Yale College to assemble an unparalleled student body, which is distinguished by its academic excellence and diversity.”
The “notice of voluntary dismissal” of the Yale lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Connecticut on Wednesday, does not give any reason for the Justice Department’s decision. It noted that Yale had not filed any answering papers in the action.
In a statement, the Justice Department said it had dismissed the lawsuit “in light of all available facts, circumstances and legal developments,” including an federal appeals court decision upholding Harvard’s admissions practices.
But the department said that it would continue an “underlying investigation” to ensure compliance with the federal funding provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Ms. Peart said Yale was continuing to cooperate with that review.
The Justice Department decision does not mean that the lawsuit against Yale is dead. Students for Fair Admission, the organization that sued Harvard, plans to pick it up and refile it under their name.
“It is important that this lawsuit continues to be vigorously litigated through the courts during the coming months and years if necessary,” said Edward Blum, the president of the organization. “Using race and ethnicity in college admissions decisions is unfair, unconstitutional and is fraying the social fabric that holds our nation together.”
The lawsuit, filed last October, asserted that Yale discriminated against both Asian-American and white applicants. The government said that race was the “determinative factor” in hundreds of admissions decisions each year, and that “for the great majority of applicants,” Asian-Americans and whites have only one-eighth to one-fourth the likelihood of admission as Black applicants with comparable academic credentials.
Violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the government said, could cost Yale millions of dollars in taxpayer money. The complaint said Yale receives more than $600 million annually in federal funds.
Yale said its admissions process did not discriminate and complied with Supreme Court precedent. During the Trump administration, the Justice Department also supported the lawsuit against Harvard. But given the Biden administration’s withdrawal from the Yale case it seems likely to withdraw its support for the Harvard case as well.