And on Tuesday, a new coalition of Asian American groups, based mostly on the West Coast, called on the Justice Department to reinstate a Trump administration lawsuit — which the Biden administration dropped in February — that had accused Yale University of discriminating against White and Asian American students in its admissions.
“We condemn anti-Asian hate, but we call for action not empty rhetoric. People who are appalled by the broader attacks on Asians should be equally outraged by Asian students being deprived of their fair chance at a college education based on their race,” said Linda Yang, director of Washington Asians for Equality, a group formed in 2018 to oppose affirmative action measures in Washington state.
Yang, a co-founder of the new coalition, told reporters on a conference call that she hopes President Biden “has the courage to officially acknowledge that anti-Asian racism existed before covid-19” and direct the Justice Department to reinstate the Yale case.
In a statement, Yale spokeswoman Karen N. Peart rejected any assertion that the school’s admission’s process is discriminatory.
“Yale considers every applicant as a whole person; race and ethnicity alone never determine admission; and Yale never imposes numerical quotas or targets,” she said, noting that Asian Americans comprise about 26 percent of the school’s incoming class each year, up from 14 percent 20 years ago.
Democrats have denounced the efforts as a disingenuous attempt by Republicans to score political points on an ideological issue, and to shift the focus away from rising racism and xenophobia against Asian Americans over the past year that, they argue, was fanned in part by President Donald Trump’s rhetoric in blaming China for the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is a cynical use of a moment of real pain to further an agenda that [a majority of] the Asian American community does not even support,” said Janelle Wong, a professor at the University of Maryland and co-founder of AAPI Data, a demographic and policy research operation that conducts polling among Asian American and Pacific Islanders.
Surveys from AAPI Data in 2012 and 2016 showed that a drop in support for affirmative action among Asian Americans was attributed largely to more negative views specifically among Chinese Americans. Support among other Asian American groups held roughly steady at about 73 percent, the survey found.
“They are trying to end any consideration of race in public policy, which is not consistent with ending racial discrimination,” Wong said of Republicans.
The debate has coincided with an effort from Students for Fair Admissions, led by the conservative legal strategist Ed Blum, to convince the Supreme Court to hear their lawsuit challenging Harvard University’s consideration of race in its admissions process, which they said harms Asian American students in favor of Blacks and Latinos. A federal judge ruled in Harvard’s favor in 2019, and the Boston-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit upheld the ruling in November, saying the university’s consideration of race was not “impermissibly extensive” and was “meaningful” because it helped maintain diversity.
During a House judiciary subcommittee hearing in March on anti-Asian violence, four GOP lawmakers requested in a letter to the Democratic chairs that they invite Yale President Peter Salovey to testify. A Yale spokesman has said a formal request was never made to the university.
But Republican Reps. Michelle Steel and Young Kim of California, both of whom are Korean American, were among those who spoke against affirmative action during the hearing. Steel denounced Proposition 16, a ballot initiative rejected by California voters last fall that would have eased restrictions on considering race and sex in government hiring and in public university admissions.
Steel called the Biden administration’s dropping of the Yale case “totally wrong and a dangerous precedent.”
A Justice Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, citing the issue’s sensitivity, said Tuesday that the agency’s lawyers dropped the Yale lawsuit after reviewing “all available facts, circumstances and legal developments,” including the federal appeals court ruling in the Harvard case. The agency also withdrew a notice letter finding that Yale’s practices had violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and will continue to review the matter through its administrative process, the official said.
Tensions boiled over in late March at another House committee hearing focused on a lack of diversity among federal judges.
Peter Kirsanow, a conservative labor lawyer and member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, cited the Harvard case as an example of discrimination facing Asian Americans and told lawmakers that he had filed a brief supporting the lawsuit against Harvard.
“Stop bringing in irrelevant issues,” snapped Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), cutting him off. Kirsanow then argued that there was “discrimination in the pipeline” of Asian American candidates for the federal bench, in part because of the decisions made by Harvard and other schools.
“The reason that you can’t talk about the federal judiciary and you keep going to the college issue is because you know you have no basis on the issue of the federal judiciary,” said Lieu, who has been a prominent critic of Trump’s rhetoric over the pandemic. Lieu cited a 2019 study from the progressive Center for American Progress that found 73 percent of federal judges are White men.
Kirsanow and Lieu did not respond to requests for comment.
Some conservatives argued that Democrats have used the raft of attacks on Asian Americans to create a false narrative that Trump’s embrace of far-right, white nationalist elements in the Republican base is largely to blame for the violence.
Marc Ang, the president of a nonprofit organization in Southern California devoted to helping Asian American businesses, pointed to news coverage of the mass shooting in Atlanta last month in which a White man is accused of killing eight, including six women of Asian descent, at three Asian-operated spas.
Authorities have said Robert Aaron Long, charged in the killings, told them he was not motivated by race but rather sought to eliminate sexual temptation, but some Democrats have called the shootings a hate crime that sought to terrorize Asian American communities.
“The overall national coverage of the attacks on Asians, while well-intentioned to shine a light on certain incidents, such as Atlanta, has produced a knee-jerk reaction to further certain narratives at the expense of others,” Ang said.
But Jennifer Lee, a sociology professor at Columbia University, said that the past year has demonstrated that Republican leaders who have sought to partner with conservative Asian Americans on dismantling affirmative action are not willing “to side with them when they are the target of racist and xenophobic attacks.”
Lee called the moment a “reckoning” for Asian Americans that “their perceived competence is no shield against xenophobic attacks. It should be painfully clear how race continues to matter in our lives, how it affects our opportunities, and how it must be central to policies, including affirmative action.”