By Jonathan Stempel and Nate Raymond
(Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Justice dropped its lawsuit accusing Yale University of discriminating against Asian and white applicants in undergraduate admissions, as the debate over affirmative action in higher education heads for a possible showdown at the Supreme Court.
Wednesday's voluntary dismissal of the lawsuit, which had been brought by the Trump administration, followed a Nov. 12 decision by a federal appeals court that Harvard University's use of race in undergraduate admissions complied with federal civil rights law.
In a letter to Yale's lawyer, Gregory Friel, deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, said the Justice Department dropped the Yale case "in light of all available facts, circumstances, and legal developments," including the Harvard case.
He said the department, now under the Biden administration, will review the matter through its administrative process.
Yale welcomed the decision. "Yale has steadfastly maintained that its process complies fully with Supreme Court precedent, and we are confident that the Justice Department will agree," spokeswoman Karen Peart said.
The Ivy League school had been accused of violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with policies that left Asian-Americans and whites one-eighth to one-fourth as likely to win admission as comparable Blacks.
Yale, based in New Haven, Connecticut, had been sued in October as part of Republican President Donald Trump's drive against affirmative action in admissions to elite universities.
Democrat Joe Biden is now president, and expected to be more supportive than Trump of efforts to promote diversity in schools.
Legal experts believe the Supreme Court's 6-3 conservative majority could use the Harvard lawsuit, which accuses the school of discriminating against Asian-American applicants, to end 43 years of letting race be used in higher education admissions.
That lawsuit was filed by Students for Fair Admissions, with support from Trump.
Edward Blum, the group's president, said it planned to sue Yale over its admissions practices "in the coming days."
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York and Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Richard Chang)