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Supreme Court Case Could End Another Aspect of Race-Based Admissions

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


The U.S. Supreme Court may take up another case involving race-based admission standards after striking them down at college and university campuses in its last session that ended in June.

Now, justices could consider a case that involves using race to determine admissions to elite U.S. high schools, citing experts familiar with the issue.

Legal experts argued that following its June ruling in favor of Students for Fair Admissions, the Supreme Court might consider Coalition for TJ v. Fairfax County School Board. That case challenges implementing “holistic” admissions policies over merit-based policies in K-12 schools.

By referencing its previous ruling, the Court could potentially invalidate the use of such practices in educational institutions at the primary and secondary levels.

“While the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on affirmative action struck down the use of 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) to confer benefits on others (blacks and Hispanics),” said Renu Mukherjee, a Manhattan Institute policy analyst focusing on affirmative action, in an interview with the outlet.

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“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,” Mukherjee noted further.

In 2021, the Coalition for TJ, comprising parents, students, and staff members, filed a lawsuit against the Fairfax County School Board that challenged the modifications made to the admissions process of the esteemed Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHS).

The changes involved the elimination of standardized testing requirements and a reduction in grade-point average thresholds. According to the lawsuit, these alterations were allegedly implemented to “racially balance the school.” The revised admissions program at TJHS now considers additional factors such as an applicant’s background, including whether they attended an underrepresented middle school, had to learn English as a second language or qualify for reduced lunch prices, the Daily Caller noted.

According to the Fairfax County Times, in May, a federal court concluded that the Coalition for TJ had not provided sufficient evidence to establish that the policy was driven by “discriminatory intent.” Subsequently, the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents the Coalition for TJ, filed an appeal with the Supreme Court.

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“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 outlet. “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.”

The Class of 2025, which is the first TF class selected via the new admissions policy, saw the percentage of Asian American students accepted drop from 70 percent to 50 percent, according to The Washington Post.

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“Thomas Jefferson was cleverer than Harvard,” GianCarlo Canaparo, a Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow, told the outlet. “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,” he added.

“That’s impermissible under Students For Fair Admissions because the Chief Justice wrote that ‘What cannot be done directly cannot be done indirectly,’” Canaparo noted further. “I expect the lawsuit against Thomas Jefferson will go to the Supreme Court, and the Court will make clear that neither direct nor indirect racial discrimination is permissible.”

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