The agency will, however, continue to investigate Yale using “administrative” means.
The Department of Justice has dropped a discrimination lawsuit against Yale University.
The sudden back-track represents a significant shift from the Justice Department’s policy under former President Donald Trump—as recently as winter, federal attorneys were arguing that Yale’s admissions policies privilege African-American and Hispanic students to the peril of White and Asian applicants.
According to CNBC, the Trump administration had vigorously litigated—and supported lawsuits—against academic policies intended to increase racial diversity.
Yale had previously maintained that its admissions criteria are not discriminatory, and that race is but one of many factors the university considers when it evaluates individual applicants.
Karen Peart, a spokeswoman for Yale, said the college is relieved the Justice Department has backed down.
“Yale is gratified that the U.S. Justice Department has dropped its lawsuit challenging Yale College’s admissions practices,” Peart 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,” Peart said. “Yale has steadfastly maintained that its process complies fully with Supreme Court precedent, and we are confident that the Justice Department will agree.”
CNBC notes that the Supreme Court has—repeatedly—found that colleges can enforce race-conscious admissions practices. While the justices have set limits on the extent to which race or ethnicity can influence an application’s outcome, they never barred the practice outright.
However, Trump’s Department of Justice alleged that Yale’s standard emphasized race to an unusual and inappropriate degree.
“Although the Supreme Court has held that colleges receiving federal funds may consider applicants’ race in certain limited circumstances as one of a number of factors, the Department of Justice found Yale’s use of race is anything but limited,” the agency said when it first pressed legal action in August.
In a statement announcing the lawsuit, the Justice Department charged that Yale uses race “at multiple steps of its admissions process resulting in a multiplied effect of race on an applicant’s likelihood of admission.”
The department further said that Yale “racially balances its classes.”
Since certain racial groups—including African-Americans and Latinos—tend to be underrepresented in higher education, a policy of “racial balancing” could lead to more Asian and White students being rejected, even if they are comparatively well-qualified.
In spite of its decision, the Justice Department appears to have left the possibility of further action on the table.
The Yale Daily News notes that, although the Justice Department has dismissed its lawsuit against the university “without prejudice”—meaning no final determination was made on the matter. The department, for its part, has said that it will continue to review accusations of admissions discrimination “through its administrative process.”