Politics & Policy

Biden’s Empty Promise to Fight Discrimination against Asian Americans

President Joe Biden speaks with House Democratic leaders and chairs of House committees during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, D.C., February 5, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Days after the president vowed to tackle anti-Asian racism, his DOJ dropped a lawsuit aimed at doing just that.

On February 3, just eight days after President Biden signed an executive order pledging to combat anti-Asian discrimination, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) abruptly dropped a federal lawsuit alleging that Yale had violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by discriminating against Asian-American and white applicants.

Biden’s executive order explicitly promised that his administration would work to fight discrimination against Asian Americans:

The Attorney General shall explore opportunities to support, consistent with applicable law, the efforts of State and local agencies, as well as AAPI [Asian and Pacific-Islander American] communities and community-based organizations, to prevent discrimination, bullying, harassment, and hate crimes against AAPI individuals, and to expand collection of data and public reporting regarding hate incidents against such individuals.

If Biden is sincere in that promise, then he should be making the severe and persistent discrimination against Asian Americans in college admissions a top priority. Instead, his DOJ has abandoned the government’s effort to hold Yale accountable for its part in the problem.

Under race-based affirmative-action policies, Harvard, Yale, and many other colleges engage in systematic discrimination, applying higher admissions standards to Asian-American applicants and maintaining a de facto system of racial quotas in admissions.

In 2009, Princeton Professor Thomas Espenshade and his assistant Alexandria Radford found that, after adjusting for extracurricular activities and other factors, an Asian-American student has to score on average 140 points higher than a white student, 270 points higher than a Hispanic student, and 450 points higher than a black student on the SAT in order to get into one of America’s top universities. A 2017 survey by Inside Higher Ed found that 39 percent of public-college admissions officers and 42 percent of private-college admissions officers admitted that they hold Asian-American applicants to a higher standard. Based on the DOJ’s investigation into Yale, Asian-American and white students have “only one-tenth to one-fourth of the likelihood of admissions as African American applicants with comparable academic credentials.”

According to a 2012 study, over the past two decades, while the population of college-aged Asian Americans doubled, Asian-American undergraduate enrollment at Ivy League schools remained more or less the same. This is a clear indication of the kind of de facto quota system prohibited both by the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment and by Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which forbids racial discrimination in any institutions receiving federal funding. It is also just plain wrong to punish Asian-American children for their hard work and devotion to education: At a time when the American society at large is suffering declines in educational achievement, Asian-American students continue to outperform their peers academically.

Most folks agree with the merit-based principle and want to treat Asian Americans fairly. A 2016 Gallup Survey found that 70 percent of Americans believe colleges should admit applicants based solely on merit, rather than race or ethnicity. A 2019 Pew Research Center survey found that 73 percent of Americans opposed considering race or ethnicity in admissions. And in 2019 and 2020, respectively, voters in Washington and California rejected Democratic attempts to restore race-based affirmative action in their states.

Despite such overwhelming public opposition to racial preferences and Biden’s promise to combat discrimination against Asian Americans, the Biden administration still insists on defending such discrimination in college admissions. But the Asian-American community is not hopeless. Students for Fair Admissions is taking its lawsuit against Harvard to the U.S. Supreme Court, where there is a real chance that the justices will terminate divisive race-based college-admissions policies once and for all. With or without the government’s help, this fight will continue.

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