Democrats Defeat GOP Effort to Add College Admissions Discrimination to Asian Hate Crimes Bill

Before passing legislation that aims to curb hate crimes against Asian and Pacific Island Americans, Senate Democrats shot down an attempt by Republicans to loop in a conservative priority that had been backed by the Trump administration: discrimination against Asian Americans in college admissions.

"Despite their calls to end racism, it is clear Democrats are only paying lip service to fighting discrimination against Asian Americans and will allow targeted discrimination against them to continue at America's universities and colleges," Senators John Kennedy of Louisiana and Ted Cruz of Texas said. They issued their joint statement after the Senate killed their proposed amendment to strip federal funding for colleges that factor race into admissions.

The amendment failed in a 49-48 vote, with all voting Republicans in favor, all voting Democrats against, and three senators—one Republican and two Democrats—absent. It needed 60 votes to pass.

The effort sought to renew a controversial fight over affirmative action while Donald Trump was president. The effort, which included a Department of Justice lawsuit against Yale over its admissions, was quietly abandoned after President Joe Biden took office.

The Trump Justice Department argued that most Asian Americans as well as white Yale applicants have only one-eighth to one-fourth of the likelihood of admission as Black applicants with comparable academic credentials, because the university requires a set level of its enrolled students to be Black.

"Yale rejects scores of Asian American and white applicants each year based on their race, whom it otherwise would admit," the Trump administration alleged in a statement announcing its lawsuit after a two-year review of the university's enrollment practices.

Yale repeatedly has denied accusations of discrimination.

"I want to be clear: Yale does not discriminate against applicants of any race or ethnicity," President Peter Salovey said in a letter posted to the university's website in January. "Our admissions practices are completely fair and lawful."

Separately, a nonprofit called Students for Fair Admissions has sued Harvard with a similar claim that the university's admissions are biased against Asian Americans.

Opponents of the measures have pointed out that Asian American students have more representation in Ivy League schools, proportionally, than other races and that courts have repeatedly upheld the practices.

"Discrimination against Asian American students or any students on the basis of race is already prohibited by federal law," Senator Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat who sponsored the original legislation against hate crimes directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, said on the Senate floor. "This amendment is a transparent and cynical attack on long-standing admission policies that serve to increase diversity and provide opportunity to students of color in our institutions of higher learning."

But conservatives have pointed to Thursday's vote in criticizing Democrats on an issue of discrimination.

Speaking on the Senate floor before senators cast their votes, Cruz called his proposed amendment "straightforward."

"It targets the ongoing discrimination that is being directed against Asian Americans by colleges and universities across the country, including preeminent institutions such as Yale and Harvard, which are denying admission to qualified Asian American applicants in favor of underrepresented minority groups," he said. "The U.S. Department of Justice was suing Yale for its discrimination against Asian Americans until the Biden administration dismissed that lawsuit."

The Senate ultimately passed the unamended hate crimes legislation in a 94-1 vote, with Senator Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, as the lone vote against the measure.

Kennedy Cruz
Republican Senators John Kennedy and Ted Cruz share an elbow bump greeting at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on November 17, 2020. HANNAH MCKAY / POOL / AFP/Getty Images