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Trump Administration Reverses Obama-Era Affirmative Action In Schools


President Trump is undoing another act of his predecessor. The Trump administration is withdrawing Obama-era guidelines that encourage schools to promote racial diversity through their admissions processes. The Departments of Justice and Education said yesterday that they have retracted a set of letters and memos that advise schools and colleges on how they could consider race to diversify their campuses. NPR's Sarah McCammon has been covering this story. Good morning, Sarah.


KING: All right. So these Obama-era guidelines were just that. They were guidelines. They were not laws. But this withdrawal by the Trump administration, what does that tell us about this administration's priorities?

MCCAMMON: Well, obviously, it reflects a broader philosophical disagreement about affirmative action and the use of race in admissions. And the Justice Department was already probing schools over how they do that. But also it's in line with the Trump administration's view that President Obama relied too much on these kinds of guidance documents that the Trump administration is pulling back from. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that they're used to circumvent the rule-making process. And he says the Justice Department has identified two dozen guidance documents to repeal this month on a number of issues, including home loans, fair employment, refugees' right to work and other topics. So affirmative action is getting a lot of attention, but this is part of a longer list of Obama-era guidance that the Trump administration is stepping away from.

KING: Oh, that's interesting. So there are - there're a long list of things there. The fight over affirmative action in particular is not new. This has been going on for decades. What has the reaction been so far to this move?

MCCAMMON: Well, you know, there's controversy about it obviously on both sides. Affirmative action has been a contentious issue for a very long time. It tends to be supported more by people on the left who see it as important to encouraging diversity. On the right, it's seen sometimes as unfair and that is - you know, that continues to be a debate that's played out for a very long time.

KING: The timing here is really interesting because affirmative action is one of a handful of really important issues that could be revisited by a conservative Supreme Court. And the president, as we know, has spent this week interviewing nominees to fill a vacancy left by Anthony Kennedy's retirement. What do we know about how that process is going?

MCCAMMON: Yeah. The White House says the president continues to meet with potential candidates, and President Trump talked about the process last night at a veterans event in West Virginia.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: These are very talented people, brilliant people, and I think you're going to really love it. Like Justice Gorsuch, we hit a homerun there, and we're going to hit a homerun here. And step by step, we are making America great again.


MCCAMMON: And, of course, Neil Gorsuch was his first pick to the Supreme Court, and he has been very popular with the base, with social conservatives. Another pick like Gorsuch would face a lot of pushback from Democrats given that Justice Kennedy was the swing vote, and that would tilt the balance of the court much more in favor of conservatives on a number of issues. And it's worth mentioning, Noel, that President Trump made those comments in West Virginia last night. That is the home state of Senator Joe Manchin, who's one of those red state Democrats we've been hearing about so much facing re-election - voted for Gorsuch and is going to face pressure to vote for Trump's nominee.

KING: I know there are a lot of rumors flying around out there, but do we have any specifics on who the president is considering for this post in the Supreme Court?

MCCAMMON: We've heard in the last day or so that he's now spoken to seven prospective nominees. At least one is a woman - Amy Coney Barrett. She's getting a lot of attention in part because most of the candidates are men. Other names we're hearing are also appeals court judges like Brett Kavanaugh and Amul Thapar. We know that the president spoke to Senator Mike Lee of Utah, who has indicated an openness to be considered for the position. He's been on a longer list of potential nominees. But it's not clear he's on the short list or that he's even being seriously considered. The short list does seem to be getting a little bit longer all the time, but we should know the nominee by Monday.

KING: And, just briefly, how are Democrats reacting to the names that are floating around out there?

MCCAMMON: They're pushing back. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling for a moderate pick in the tradition of Justice Kennedy. So we'll see.

KING: NPR's Sarah McCammon - thank you so much, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.