Federal Court Strikes Down Racial Balancing Policy Resulting in Discrimination Against Asian Applicants at Prominent Virginia Public School,
Yesterday, in Coalition for TJ v. Fairfax County School Board, a federal district court ruled that a new admissions policy at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, in Fairfax, Virginia is unconstitutional, because it discriminates against Asian-American applicants. Thomas Jefferson (known as “TJ”) is one of the nation’s most prestigious selective public schools. While the new policy does not explicitly discriminate on the basis of race, federal district court Judge Claude Hilton found that the evidence shows it was motivated by a desire on the part of Fairfax County school officials to reduce the percentage of Asian-American students in order to make the student body more demographically representative of the county population.
As I have explained in previous writings about this case (see here, here, and here), the issue arises from longstanding Supreme Court precedent holding that a facially neutral policy can qualify as unconstitutional racial discrimination if there is evidence that favoring some racial groups at the expense of others was part of the government’s motive, and the defendants cannot prove they would have enacted the policy even in the absence of those discriminatory motivations. That is exactly what happened here. The Washington Post has a helpful summary of the ruling:
A federal judge ruled Friday that a new admissions system for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a prestigious magnet program in Fairfax, discriminates against Asian American applicants and must end
U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton concluded that an effort to boost African American and Latino representation at TJ, as the school is known, constitutes an illegal act of “racial balancing…”
Hilton wrote that “emails and text messages between Board members and high-ranking FCPS officials leave no material dispute that, at least in part, the purpose of the Board’s admissions overhaul was to change the racial makeup to TJ to the detriment of Asian-Americans….”
n 2021, the first year the admissions changes took effect, officials at TJ enrolled the most diverse class in recent memory. The TJ Class of 2025 includes far more Black, Hispanic and low-income students than any class in recent memory. But Asian American representation dropped from roughly 70 percent to around 50 percent of the class.
The changes were controversial from the start; they inspired two swift lawsuits…..
[Judge Hilton] wrote that throughout the revision process, Fairfax school board members and the superintendent made clear that their goal was “to have TJ reflect the demographics of the surrounding area, described primarily in racial terms.” Hilton wrote that this aim amounts to “racial balancing for its own sake,” and as such is “patently unconstitutional.”
He pointed to text messages and emails exchanged between school board members and some of the highest-ranking s