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The U.S. Justice Department sued Yale University on Thursday, charging the university with illegal discrimination against Asian American and white applicants. The suit follows through on a threat the Justice Department made to Yale in August: that it end consideration of race in admissions or face a lawsuit.

The complaint alleges that Yale engages in racial balancing by, among other things, keeping the annual percentage of African American admitted applicants to within one percentage point of the previous year’s admitted class as reflected in U.S. Department of Education data. The complaint alleges similar racial balancing about Asian American applicants. In general, Yale's policies favor Black and Latinx applicants, the suit alleges.

In a statement, Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division said, “This nation’s highest ideals include the notion that we are all equal under the law. For centuries, people from all over the world have learned of this ideal, left their ancestral homes, and come to the United States hoping that this country would live up to its ideals and that they and their families could enjoy equal opportunity and pursue the American dream. Countless Americans have pursued their dreams through higher education, and they continue to do so. All persons who apply for admission to colleges and universities should expect and know that they will be judged by their character, talents, and achievements and not the color of their skin. To do otherwise is to permit our institutions to foster stereotypes, bitterness, and division.”

Yale is accused of violating Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars race-based discrimination.

The university said it would defend itself in court.

"I want to be clear: Yale does not discriminate against applicants of any race or ethnicity. 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," said a letter from Peter Salovey, Yale's president, to the campus.

Specifically, he answered Justice Department statements that seek to prove that Yale engages in discrimination by noting that there is more to getting into Yale than having the best grades and test scores. "In thinking about this issue, it is important to bear in mind the quality of Yale’s admissions pool. Even if we thought that relying on [grade point averages] and test scores alone was in Yale’s best interest, we could not take that course because we have too many applicants with excellent academic qualifications. More important, Yale would not be well served by looking only at GPA and test scores, which do not provide a complete picture of each applicant," Salovey said.

Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, said, "With its action today, the Justice Department has unapologetically aligned with the repeated, failed attempts by misguided advocacy groups to prevent colleges and universities from considering race as one factor in a holistic admissions review, despite four decades of U.S. Supreme Court precedent upholding the principle that institutions have a compelling interest in student body diversity. In recent years, attacks on the University of Texas at Austin have been rejected -- twice -- by the Supreme Court, and it was only last October when a Massachusetts federal court ruled in favor of Harvard University in a similar case."

But Yukong Zhao, president of the Asian American Coalition for Education, which opposes affirmative action, said, "All American children should be judged by their merits and the content of their character, not the color of their skin. We are grateful that the federal government has taken additional actions to enforce the Civil Rights Act clause for equal protection of the law, especially the equal rights of Asian-American children who have been long scapegoated by racial preferences in education. Politicians who have instituted failing policies in too many black and Hispanic communities, not hardworking Asian-American children, should be blamed for the persistent racial achievement gaps."

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