Senate Democrats sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos criticizing and demanding answers on affirmative action guidance that was rescinded by Sessions last month.
The 21 senators, led by Democrats Patty Murray of Washington and Dianne Feinstein of California, sent the letter Monday.
“While the law is clear and unchanged — that diversity is a compelling government interest that permits race conscious admission — retracting this guidance will make it more challenging for school districts and colleges to understand your Departments’ enforcement of the law to ensure the institution is in compliance,” the senators wrote.
They continued: “With assaults by your Administration on our country’s laws, values, and communities, we are deeply troubled for the ongoing health and prosperity of our nation and its economy. As our country continues to grow more diverse, we need policies that foster diversity and inclusion, not suppress them.”
The information the Democrats want include who Sessions and DeVos consulted before making the decision to revoke the guidance and a list of the complaints of discrimination based on race or ethnicity from schools closed by the Department of Education.
Education Department press secretary Elizabeth Hill responded to the letter in a statement Tuesday without directly addressing the senators’ questions.
“As the Secretary has said, the Supreme Court has determined what affirmative action policies are Constitutional, and the Court’s written decisions are the best guide for navigating this complex issue,” Hill said. “Schools should continue to offer equal opportunities for all students while abiding by the law.”
Responding to the letter, Justice Department spokeswoman Kelly Laco said the “executive branch cannot circumvent Congress or the courts by creating guidance that goes beyond the law and — in some instances — stays on the books for decades.”
“Last year, the Attorney General initiated a review of guidance documents, which resulted in dozens of examples —including July’s second tranche of rescissions — of documents that go beyond or are inconsistent with the Constitution and federal law,” Laco said in a statement Tuesday. “The Justice Department remains committed to enforcing the law and protecting all Americans from all forms of illegal race-based discrimination.”
In July, Sessions rescinded the set of Obama-era policies that promoted using race to achieve diversity in schools.
While the decision does not change current US law on affirmative action, it provided a strong illustration of the administration’s position on an issue that could take on renewed attention with the departure of Justice Anthony Kennedy from the Supreme Court.