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In October 2020, the United States Department of Justice sued Yale over alleged discrimination against white and Asian American applicants in its college admissions process. The case was dropped by the Biden administration in February 2021.

The lawsuit came after the DOJ issued an August report finding that Yale violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits any institution or activity receiving federal funding from discriminating on the basis of race, color or national origin. The DOJ ordered Yale to submit proposed amendments to its admissions process before Sept. 15, and when Yale did not, the DOJ filed a lawsuit. Five months later, however, within two weeks of assuming office, the Biden administration dropped the lawsuit. In addition to dropping the lawsuit, the new Biden DOJ also withdrew the notice of violation of Title VI, although they kept the investigation into Yale’s admissions practices open.

“Yale is gratified that the U.S. Justice Department has dropped its lawsuit challenging Yale College’s admissions practices,” University spokesperson Karen Peart wrote to the News in February 2021. “Our admissions process has allowed Yale College to assemble an unparalleled student body, which is distinguished by its academic excellence and diversity. Yale has steadfastly maintained that its process complies fully with Supreme Court precedent, and we are confident that the Justice Department will agree.” 

The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, alleged that Yale engages in “racial balancing” in its admissions process, which is similar to having racial quotas. The suit claims that this balancing disproportionately hurts white and Asian American applicants, while also “relying upon and reinforcing damaging race-based stereotypes” by “signal[ing] that racially-favored applicants cannot compete against Asian and white applicants.”

The Biden DOJ dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice, meaning that no final determination was made regarding whether Yale discriminates in its admissions process.

“The Department has dismissed its lawsuit in light of all available facts, circumstances, and legal developments, including the November 2020 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rejecting a challenge to Harvard University’s consideration of race in its admissions practices,” a spokesperson for the DOJ wrote in an email to the News.

When the lawsuit was first announced, University President Peter Salovey wrote in an email to the Yale community that Yale had provided the DOJ with information that demonstrated that the allegations were false.

“I want to be clear: Yale does not discriminate against applicants of any race or ethnicity,” Salovey wrote. “Our admissions practices are completely fair and lawful. Yale’s admissions policies will not change as a result of the filing of this baseless lawsuit. We look forward to defending these policies in court.”

Despite the new administration dropping the lawsuit, Students for Fair Admission, an advocacy group that, according to its website, believes that “that racial classifications and preferences in college admissions are unfair, unnecessary, and unconstitutional,” filed a lawsuit against Yale similarly alleging that the University discriminates against white and Asian American applicants. 

SFFA is the plaintiff in the high-profile lawsuit against Harvard University on similar charges. In 2019, a federal judge ruled against SFFA in that case. SFFA appealed the ruling, and the case is expected to reach the Supreme Court.

Like the DOJ lawsuit, the new SFFA lawsuit accuses Yale of violating Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. 

Derek Black, a constitutional law professor at the University of South Carolina who specializes in education policy, told the News in February 2021 that he believes both Yale and Harvard’s admissions processes are consistent with Supreme Court precedent on affirmative action. SFFA’s lawsuits, he said, are based on “fallacious claims” that have no merit.

Yale student associations representing a number of ethnic and racial minorities came out against the initial DOJ lawsuit in October. One joint statement, signed by leaders of the Black Student Alliance at Yale, the Yale Black Women’s Coalition, the Yale Black Men’s Coalition and the Yale Muslim Students Association, called the lawsuit a “destructive attack on equitable education.”

“To participate in a color-blind admissions process, as the Department now expects our university to do, is to discredit the experiences that make academic success on par with other races systematically more difficult for Black students,” the statement wrote. “This makes the Black educational experience materially more challenging.”

Other statements signed by students, including one signed by members of the Asian American Students Alliance, the South Asian Society, the Yale Queer + Asian and other Asian American Cultural Center (AACC) affiliate groups, echoed this sentiment.

The statement from the AACC affiliate organizations describes the ruling as a “thinly veiled ploy to use Asian Americans to attack the system of affirmative action, and maintain unequal access to higher education, at the expense of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx individuals.”

The Supreme Court has twice upheld affirmative action since the Court originally found it constitutional in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke in 1978.

Philip Mousavizadeh covers Woodbridge Hall, the President's Office. He previously covered the Jackson Institute. He is a sophomore in Trumbull College studying Ethics, Politics, and Economics