Why It Matters: The case could be a test of “race neutral” admissions policies.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on race-conscious affirmative action in college admissions, but the Thomas Jefferson case could break new ground.
The high school’s new admissions criterion never even mentions race, but the lawsuit challenges the use of race-neutral “proxies.”
“They are, in our view, using proxies for race in order to get a racial result,” said Joshua P. Thompson, a lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative legal group that is helping parents, many of them Asian American, with their lawsuit.
The high school applauded the decision. “We firmly believe this admission plan is fair and gives qualified applicants at every middle school a fair chance of a seat at T.J.,” said John Foster, division counsel for the Fairfax County Public Schools.
Background: Asian American parents had objected to the new admissions strategy.
In late 2020, officials in Fairfax County, Va., were concerned about the negligible number of Black and Hispanic students at the school and changed admissions standards at Thomas Jefferson High School, which draws students from across Northern Virginia.
As a result, the percentage of Black students grew to 7 percent from 1 percent of the class, while the number of Asian American students fell to 54 percent from 73 percent, the lowest share in years.
A group of parents, many of them Asian American, objected to the new plan and started the Coalition for T.J. The coalition filed a lawsuit with the help of the Pacific Legal Foundation, which has filed similar lawsuits in New York and Montgomery County, Md.
What’s Next: Potentially, an end to efforts to remedy perceived racial disparities.
The ruling was widely expected, and the case is likely now headed to a review at the Supreme Court.
A Supreme Court ruling in favor of the plaintiffs in the T.J. case would be the next step in ending any consideration of race — in this case by using proxies such as ZIP codes or income — to boost racial equity through education and other public programs.
In a forthcoming paper in the Stanford Law Review, Sonja B. Starr, a professor of law and criminology at the University of Chicago, writes that the plaintiffs are “laying the groundwork for a much bigger legal transformation” that could ban any public policy effort to close racial gaps.
Ms. Starr predicted in an interview that the T.J. case could ultimately reverberate in areas beyond education, such as fair housing, environmental permitting and social welfare policies.
Campbell Robertson contributed reporting. Kirsten Noyes contributed research.