David Nakamura, Washington Post, April 6, 2021
Amid increased public attention on anti-Asian hate incidents, some Republicans and conservative-leaning advocacy groups are seeking to leverage the debate to bolster their long-standing efforts to overturn affirmative action policies at elite universities and high schools.
GOP lawmakers have railed against the admissions criteria used by Ivy League schools, saying they discriminate against Asian American students. Influential pundits, including podcast host Ben Shapiro, have made similar arguments on social media, suggesting that Democrats and liberal groups have been duplicitous in their advocacy.
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.
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.
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.
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.”