The Supreme Court could take up a case that challenges the use of racial balancing practices at selective high schools following its ruling against race-based admission policies at universities, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The Supreme Court sided in June with Students for Fair Admissions, ruling that Harvard University and the University of North Carolina’s use of affirmative action admissions policies was unconstitutional and halting the practice across higher education institutions.
The Supreme Court could take up Coalition for TJ [Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology] v. Fairfax County School Board, a case that challenges the use of “holistic” admissions policies over merit-based policies, and strike down the use of such practices among K-12 schools by pointing to its June ruling, legal experts told the DCNF.
“While the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on affirmative action struck down the use racial preferences in higher education admissions, it signals that this court has little patience for institutions that engage in racial balancing, as well as penalizing certain racial groups (Asian Americans and whites) in order to confer benefits on others (blacks and Hispanics),” Renu Mukherjee, a Manhattan Institute policy analyst who focuses on affirmative action, told the DCNF. “And the fact pattern of the case concerning Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology demonstrates that the Fairfax County School Board was doing exactly that with its ‘holistic admissions’ policy.”
In 2021, Coalition for TJ, a group of parents, students and staff, sued Fairfax County School Board after it modified the prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology’s (TJHS) admissions process to remove standardized testing requirements and lowered grade-point average requirements, which the lawsuit alleges is meant to “racially balanc[e] the school.”
Through the school’s revised admissions program, it considers “experience factors” including whether applicants attended an underrepresented middle school, had to learn English as a second language or are eligible for reduced lunch prices.
A federal court ruled in May that Coalition for TJ failed to demonstrate that the policy was motivated by “discriminatory intent.” Following the ruling, Pacific Legal Foundation, who represents the Coalition for TJ, filed an appeal of the decision to SCOTUS, according to the Fairfax County Times.
“I anticipate that if the Supreme Court does take up the TJ case, it will, in ruling for Coalition for TJ point to its decision in ‘Students for Fair Admissions,‘” Mukherjee told the DCNF. “It’s also worth remembering that the Court already ruled in 2007’s ‘Parents Involved’ that the ‘diversity rationale’ used to uphold race-conscious admissions at the university level does not apply to K-12, as well as that schools are constitutionally prohibited from engaging in racial balancing.”
In the Class of 2025, the first TJHS class selected using the new admissions policy, the percentage of Asian American students accepted dropped from 70% to 50%, according to The Washington Post.
“Thomas Jefferson was cleverer than Harvard,” GianCarlo Canaparo, a Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow, told the DCNF. “Rather than discriminate against Asians and whites explicitly, it privileged applicants from middle schools where it knew there were fewer of them. But the intent was the same — to boost the number of black and Hispanic students and suppress the number of Asian and white students.”
“That’s impermissible under Students For Fair Admissions, because the Chief Justice wrote that ‘What cannot be done directly cannot be done indirectly,’” Canaparo told the DCNF. “I expect the lawsuit against Thomas Jefferson will go to the Supreme Court, and that the Court will make clear that neither direct nor indirect racial discrimination is permissible.”
TJHS recently came under fire after it was revealed in December that the school had failed to notify students who received the National Merit Scholarship commendation, an honor used for college applications and to obtain scholarships, in an effort to not “hurt” the feelings of students who did not earn the award.
“We have witnessed firsthand at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology the potential consequences of so-called ‘race-neutral’ policies masquerading as efforts to promote diversity in admissions but actually practicing anti-Asian racism,” a Coalition for TJ spokesperson told the DCNF. “With the legal acumen of our lawyers at Pacific Legal Foundation, the Coalition for TJ will persevere in its efforts to ensure that race-neutral admissions policies do not perpetuate discrimination or disadvantage any racial or ethnic group. We stand united in our belief that diversity, inclusivity and equal rights are the cornerstones of a just society.”
Fairfax County Public Schools is reviewing the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action, a spokesperson told the DCNF.
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