September 20th, 2023 2 Minute Read Public Filings by Ilya Shapiro

Amicus Brief: Coalition for TJ v. Fairfax County School District

A group of parents challenged the Fairfax County, Virginia school board’s revamping of admissions policies at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (“TJ”) as racially discriminatory against Asian-American applicants. TJ specializes in advanced math and science education and for years has been ranked the number one public high school in the country. In Fall 2020, the board voted to overhaul TJ’s admissions process, notably abolishing standardized testing and introducing a rule that approximately 450 seats in each class would go to the top-rated 1.5% students from each county middle school. In allocating the remaining 100 seats, students from underrepresented middle schools would receive an admissions boost.

Because Asian-American students are disproportionately concentrated in Fairfax County middle schools that have specialized offerings for gifted children, these changes reduced their numbers significantly. This was not unintentional: deliberations about revamping the admissions procedures were infected with talk of racial balancing from the start. The Coalition for TJ won summary judgment in the district court, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (where MI filed a brief last year) reversed. The Coalition has now petitioned the Supreme Court to take the case and MI has joined the American Civil Rights Project and Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute on a brief supporting that effort.

We argue that the Fourth Circuit misread the record under the wrong legal standard to reverse the district court’s finding of discriminatory intent, that it applied the wrong substantive standard to allow the school board to evade strict scrutiny, and that TJ’s experience under the board’s admissions policy reflects no educational gains from enhanced “diversity” as the board construes that term. Particularly after its decision in the Harvard and UNC affirmative-action cases last term, the Supreme Court ought to take up this case and prevent unconstitutional race-balancing through facially race-neutral methods.

Ilya Shapiro is a senior fellow and director of Constitutional Studies at the Manhattan Institute. Follow him on Twitter here.

Photo by DNY59/iStock

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