The Trump Administration has rescinded the Obama-era guidelines that encouraged American schools, colleges and institutes of higher education to use race and ethnicity as a factor in the admissions process to promote diversity among students, triggering widespread criticism.
The guidelines were among 24 policy documents revoked on Tuesday by the US Justice Department for being "unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper."
"In the Trump administration, we are restoring the rule of law," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, alleging that in previous administrations agencies often tried to impose new rules on American people without any public notice or comment period, simply by sending a letter or posting a guidance document on a website.
"That's wrong, and it's not good government," he argued.
"That's why in November I banned this practice at the Department and we began rescinding guidance documents that were issued improperly or that were simply inconsistent with current law," Sessions said.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said that the Supreme Court has determined what affirmative-action policies were constitutional, and the court's written decisions were the best guide for navigating this complex issue.
The move has been slammed by the opposition Democratic party and rights groups.
Anurima Bargava, who headed civil-rights enforcement in schools under Obama's Justice Department and helped craft the Obama-era documents, told Wall Street Journal that said they simply offered guidelines to schools and colleges looking to continue using affirmative action legally.
"The law on this hasn't changed, and the Supreme Court has twice ruled reaffirming the importance of diversity. This is a purely political attack that benefits nobody," Bhargava was quoted as saying.
Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said that the Obama Administration's guidance reaffirmed the truth that diversity is the strength of schools and nation, which is now under direct attack from the Trump Administration's discriminatory agenda.
"From day one, Secretary DeVos, Attorney General Sessions and the (Donald) Trump Cabinet have trampled over settled law in their haste to undermine decades of progress toward ensuring that our schools and workforce reflect the diversity of our nation," Pelosi said.
Senator Patty Murray alleged that with this latest action, the Trump Administration is making it more difficult for colleges and universities to open up doors of opportunity to students and communities who have historically been left behind, and more difficult for them to increase access and diversity in their classrooms, which helps all students succeed.
"This shouldn't shock anyone who has been paying attention to what President Trump has said about immigrants, women, people of colour, and people with disabilities, or to anyone who has watched what he and Secretary DeVos have done to roll back civil rights enforcement on behalf of survivors of sexual assault, LGBTQ students, and more - but it should be one more reminder that his Administration is doing everything they can, every day and at every level, to divide communities and undermine our American values," Murray said.
Congressman Bobby Scott, ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Congressman Jerrold Nadler, ranking member of the House Committee on the Judiciary, said that the decision contradicts the Supreme Court's ruling in the Fisher versus University of Texas case that schools have a compelling interest in pursuing a diverse student body.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said that among the guidance rescinded was information on federal protections based on national origin, laws preventing someone from being denied opportunity based on their ethnic or cultural background.
"This move from Attorney General Sessions is a concrete signal that there is a war being waged on civil liberties from the highest levels of government. Guidance documents do not make law, but they do clarify and facilitate the law's implementation," ACLU national political director Faiz Shakir said.
"This is another attack by Sessions and President Trump on people of colour..." he added.