Aug. 2 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Justice plans to investigate and sue universities if its civil rights division deems white applicants were discriminated against due to affirmative action, an internal memo shows.
The New York Times obtained the division's internal document that seeks lawyers interested in working for a new project on "investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions."
The document suggests the effort will be run out of the division's front office, where political appointees work under President Donald Trump's administration, instead of the division's Educational Opportunities Section run by career civil servants who normally handle cases related to schools and universities.
While the document does not explicitly identify who is at risk for discrimination due to affirmative action policies, it describes "intentional race-based discrimination" as the target of its proposed efforts.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that two people familiar with the internal discussions at the civil rights division said the proposed project occurred after career staffers who specialize in education issues refused to participate, citing concern that it was contrary to the office's longtime approach to civil rights in education. The political leadership within the department then decided to take the effort themselves, the sources said.
Roger Clegg, president of the conservative Center for Equal Opportunity who served as a civil rights division official in previous administrations, told the Times the project was a "welcome" and "long overdue" development as the United States becomes increasingly multiracial.
"The civil rights laws were deliberately written to protect everyone from discrimination, and it is frequently the case that not only are whites discriminated against now, but frequently Asian-Americans are as well," Clegg said.
Anurima Bhargava, a former civil rights division official under President Barack Obama's administration official, told the Post the move a "scare tactic" meant to unnerve colleges and universities.
"The goal here is to drum up a bunch of fear and intimidate schools who are trying to provide a pipeline to leadership for all Americans," Bhargava said.