A legal activist group has petitioned the Supreme Court to hear a case involving race-based admissions policies at an elite public high school in Virginia.
What the case is about:
The Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) is challenging the admissions policies at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, which adopts what the school board claims to be race-neutral criteria to achieve a diverse student body. The PLF is representing the Coalition for TJ, a group consisting of mostly Asian American parents, for free.
In its case filing on Monday, the group alleges the school’s new admissions plan was designed to “achieve the same results as overt racial discrimination
,” echoing the recent Supreme Court decision
against race-conscious admissions practices by colleges.
How it began: The case stems from changes the school made to its admissions process in late 2020 in response to concerns about an underrepresentation of Black and Hispanic students. Officials in Fairfax County, Virginia, decided to alter admissions standards, including eliminating a rigorous entry exam and offering admission to top students from each middle school in the area, rather than the top applicants overall.
The Coalition for TJ first filed a lawsuit
against the Fairfax school board over its alleged discrimination against Asian American student applicants in January 2022. While a federal judge ruled the following month that the admissions policy was indeed illegal and discriminatory, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond overturned the decision in May. The PLF now wants to overturn that decision in their favor in their new filing.
The broader debate: The Supreme Court’s landmark decision on affirmative action in June, which ruled against Harvard and the University of North Carolina‘s use of race-conscious admissions, has sparked discussions about the constitutionality of race-neutral practices designed to achieve diversity. Advocates of the PLF’s stance claim that allowing such practices to stand could encourage school districts and universities to develop workarounds that enable them to discriminate without using explicit racial classifications.
What comes next: With the Supreme Court’s three conservative justices already expressing sympathy toward the PLF’s arguments, the case presents an opportunity for the Court to further define the boundaries of race-related policies in education. Observers note that the outcome of this case could set a precedent for how admissions policies are approached not only at high schools but also at colleges and universities across the country.