FALLS CHURCH, Va. — A federal appeals court ruling last month on admissions policies at an elite public high school in Virginia could provide a means for the US Supreme Court to determine the expected scope of the ruling. Thursday’s decision bans affirmative action in college admissions.
Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology, outside the nation’s capital, is regularly ranked as one of the best public schools in America; Enrollment is highly competitive.
A coalition of parents, backed by a conservative legal organization, filed a lawsuit in 2021 to challenge admissions policies at TJ, and the organization is asking the Supreme Court to settle the case. job. The lawsuit raises issues similar to but not the same as those addressed in a high court ruling that dismissed admissions policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina as unconstitutional.
College admissions rules consider an applicant’s race to be one of many factors considered. In the case of TJ, however, all parties agree that admissions policies are racially neutral.
But the union that filed the lawsuit says the admissions criteria are “race-based authorizations” made to achieve racial balance. They say the policy discriminates against Asian Americans, who make up 70% of the total student population.
The union also cited debate among Fairfax County Board of Education members as they implement its new policy in 2020. Board members and administrators expressed disappointment that students Blacks and Hispanics have been unfortunately underrated at TJ for decades. The union argues that new policies aimed at increasing the representation of blacks and Hispanics are detrimental to Asians.
The first class of freshmen admitted under the new rules saw significant racial differences. Black students increased from 1% to 7%; Hispanic representation increased from 3% to 11%. Asian-American representation decreased from 73% to 54%.
The new policies replaced a standardized test with a process that allocates percentages of seats based on geography and takes into account student “experience factors,” such as whether they come from a low-income household or speak English as a second language.
Last year, a federal judge found the admissions policy unconstitutional, saying “the discussion of the admissions changes was contaminated with the talk of racial balance from the start.”
But in May, the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond overturned that ruling. In the 2-1 ruling, the judges said the school board had a legitimate interest in promoting diversity and that considering such efforts as discriminatory against Asian Americans “simply go contrary to common sense”.
Legal Pacific, which represents parents of anti-Asian discrimination claims, is asking the US Supreme Court to hear the case.
“We think it represents a really powerful vehicle and the time has come. And we certainly hope the court will take it up,” said Joshua Thompson, the foundation’s senior attorney.
Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor at George Mason University, said there will be years to watch the cases until Thursday’s ruling, as is typical with major Supreme Court cases, as universities dragging their feet and trying to save the policies they are applying. ideologically engaged.
However, he is not sure that TJ’s case will make sense. He said the debate over the constitutionality of TJ’s policies will focus on the facts and on what can be demonstrated about the school board’s motivations in implementing the policy.
More likely, he said, is the debate over how universities use essay questions on topics like diversity to achieve the same results as the now-banned affirmative action programs. .
The majority opinion of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts left little room on that front when he wrote that colleges could consider an individual’s application essay and “race.” affected their lives, be it discrimination, inspiration or otherwise.”
But Roberts also notes that colleges “may not simply establish through application essays or other means that the regime we consider illegal today.”
Kontorovich said universities will ask essay questions on topics like diversity “which will give them the ability to quietly consider race in more subtle ways.” In the end, however, he thinks the court, at least as it is currently established, will reject those eventual efforts.
Fairfax County Public Schools declined to comment on the Supreme Court’s decision.
Thompson said Pacific Legal is expected to formally file its lawsuit with the Supreme Court in August and will likely know by the end of the year whether the case will go to trial.