She said the department had not received or issued any “directive, memorandum, initiative or policy related to university admissions in general.” The Times report did not say that the department had, but noted that it was preparing to redirect agency resources toward scrutinizing university affirmative-action practices. The announcement, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, said division lawyers interested in working on the topic are to submit résumés by Aug. 9.
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Several current and former Civil Rights Division employees greeted the department’s statement on Wednesday with skepticism. The personnel announcement said it was seeking multiple lawyers to work on “investigations,” plural. It also indicated that the project will be run the division’s front office, where Trump administration political appointees work, rather than by the division’s Educational Opportunities Section, where career civil-service lawyers normally handle university-related complaints.
“I am skeptical of the explanation that this detail announcement would be for the investigation of one single complaint,” said Justin M. Levitt, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the division in the Obama administration. “To have that structure to investigate a single complaint, outside the normal chain of command for career attorneys who investigate these sorts of complaints all the time, that’s quite weird.”
Separately, Roger Clegg, a former top official in the Civil Rights Division during the Reagan and first Bush administrations who is now the president of the conservative Center for Equal Opportunity, had welcomed the development on Tuesday as “long overdue.” On Wednesday, he said he hoped the project would end up being more than a single investigation.
“I hope that the administration will be investigating more than one case, because I think there is more than one case that merits investigation,” he said. He added that he hoped the statement “does not reflect a retreat from a willingness to be politically incorrect.”
Ms. Flores’s statement described the investigation as an administrative referral about a complaint filed by 64 Asian-American coalitions in May 2015 and that “alleges racial discrimination against Asian-Americans in a university’s admission policy and practices.” That description dovetails with a dispute at Harvard University that led to a still-pending lawsuit filed on behalf of such students. The Justice Department, to date, has not intervened in that litigation or filed a friend-of-the-court brief.