The Department of Justice has voluntarily dismissed a lawsuit against Yale University on Wednesday. The action, filed in October under the Trump administration, accused the college of discriminating against Asian and Caucasian applicants.
A DOJ spokesperson told FOX Business that the decision was made "in light of all available facts, circumstances and legal developments", including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit's decision in Nov. 2020 to reject a challenge to Harvard University's consideration of race in its admissions process.
In addition, the agency has withdrawn its notice letter finding that Yale's practices violate Title VI. However, an underlying investigation by the department to ensure continued Title VI compliance from Yale is ongoing.
The discrimination lawsuit was dismissed without predjudice, meaning neither the United States nor the court has made any final determination in the matter. A judge must still sign off on the decision.
Federal prosecutors had argued the university violated civil rights laws because it “discriminates based on race and national origin in its undergraduate admissions process, and that race is the determinative factor in hundreds of admissions decisions each year.” The Justice Department investigation stemmed from a 2016 complaint by the New Jersey-based Asian American Coalition for Education coalition against Yale, Brown and Dartmouth.
A Yale spokesperson told FOX Business the university is "gratified" that the Justice Department has dropped its lawsuit and "pleased" that the school has withdrawn its notices of violation of Title VI and of noncompliance.
"The Justice Department’s decision in August 2020 to issue the notice of violation unexpectedly and precipitously cut off an exchange of information that Yale looks forward to resuming," the spokesperson added. "Our admissions process has allowed Yale College to assemble an unparalleled student body, which is distinguished by its academic excellence and diversity."
The announcement comes at the start of a new semester for Yale, which university president Peter Salovey called "a time of reflection and recommitment to Yale’s mission of educating future leaders who will serve all sectors of society."
The university has maintained that its practices comply fully with deces of Supreme Court precedent and that it considers a multitude of factors and looks at “the whole person when selecting whom to admit among the many thousands of highly qualified applicants.”
"Our ability to realize this shared mission relies on an admissions process that looks at the whole applicant: where applicants come from, what they have accomplished, and what they hope to achieve at Yale and after graduation. In this way, we create an incoming class that is richly diverse—with invaluable benefits to our students, faculty, and community," Salovey said in a letter to Yale students and staff. "As I think of our students, each of whom had a unique journey to Yale, it is clear to me that they are a diverse group of talented individuals who have so much to contribute to our university, to our country, and to the world. Their stories—and their hopes and dreams—underscore the importance of our unwavering commitment to maintaining an academic environment built on a wide range of strengths and backgrounds."
But Swan Lee, a co-founder of the group behind the complaint, called it “a racist decision because it preserves discrimination in education. It’s a setback in our fight against racial discrimination against Asian Americans in education.”
The change in administrations brought an end to the suit, but the challenge to college admissions policies that take race into account is alive in a case against Harvard’s practices. The challengers have lost at each round in the lower courts, but their appeal is expected in the coming weeks at the Supreme Court, where a conservative majority may well be more receptive.
“The challenge to race-based affirmative action in higher education will continue regardless of any change in the Department of Justice,” said Edward Blum, the president of Students for Fair Admissions.
The Yale investigation also found that the university used race as a factor in multiple steps of the admissions process and that Yale “racially balances its classes.”
The Supreme Court has ruled colleges and universities may consider race in admissions decisions but has said that must be done in a narrowly tailored way to promote diversity and should be limited in time. Schools also bear the burden of showing why their consideration of race is appropriate.
“I am totally shocked by the Biden DOJ’s hasty decision to drop the Yale lawsuit, only eight days after President Biden signed an executive order claiming to combat anti-Asian discrimination,” said Yukong Zhao, the president of the Asian American Coalition for Education.
But the decision was lauded by other civil rights groups, including one run by the Biden administration’s incoming assistant attorney general for civil rights.
“It has been proven in the courts that race-conscious admissions programs are lawful, and Black students and other students of color who come from all walks of life can rest a little easier knowing our government is looking to lift them up, not divide and suppress,” said David Hinojosa, director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The group’s president, Kristen Clarke, is Biden’s nominee to run the Justice Department’s civil rights division
Biden’s Justice Department is working to undo Trump policies, including "zero tolerance," the immigration policy that was responsible for family separations. Also Wednesday, the Supreme Court agreed to requests from the Biden administration to put off arguments in two challenges to Trump-era policies involving the U.S.-Mexico border wall and asylum-seekers as Biden works to change the policies that had been challenged in court.
Fox News' Jake Gibson, David Spunt and the Associated Press contributed to this report