The move comes at a moment when conservatives see an opportunity to dismantle affirmative action.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said his prosecutors will investigate and sue universities over discriminatory admissions policies. And the conservative-backed lawsuit against Harvard is being pushed by the same group, the Project on Fair Representation, that pressed Fisher.
Anurima Bhargava, who headed civil rights enforcement in schools for the Justice Department under President Barack Obama and co-authored the Obama-era guidance, said that the policy withdrawal was timed for brief filings in the Harvard litigation, due at the end of the month.
“This is a wholly political attack,” Ms. Bhargava said. “And our schools are the place where our communities come together, so our schools have to continue to promote diversity and address segregation, as the U.S. Constitution demands.”
“It’s part of a broader conservative effort to undermine affirmative action,” said Samuel Bagenstos, a University of Michigan law professor and former Justice Department civil rights lawyer. “It’s something Republican administrations have been doing since Reagan.”
On Friday, the Education Department began laying the groundwork for the guidance decision. It restored on its civil rights website the Bush-era guidance, which had been shuttered by the Obama administration, signaling a shift of the Education Department’s stance on affirmative action, according to a person with knowledge of the decision.
A spokeswoman for the Education Department did not respond to repeated inquiries for comment.
But the policy shift comes as no surprise to civil rights advocates, who say it is only the latest measure by the Trump administration to dismantle policies aimed at protecting children and minority communities.
“There’s no reason to rethink or reconsider this, as the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land and has spoken on this issue,” said Catherine Lhamon, the former head of the department’s office for civil rights under Obama. “The Supreme Court has been unequivocal about the value of diversity and the core of achieving it, because it reflects the America. To retreat from those principles is damaging to the fabric of our country and to our students’ learning.”