Yesterday, in Coalition for TJ v. Fairfax County School BoardA federal district court in Fairfax, Virginia ruled that an admissions policy adopted by Thomas Jefferson High School For Science and Technology was unconstitutional because it discriminates Against Asian-American students. Thomas Jefferson (“TJ”), a highly-respected selective public school is one of America’s best. The new policy is not discriminatory on the basis of race. However, federal District Court Judge Claude Hilton determined that it was driven by Fairfax County school officials’ desire to lower the proportion of Asian-American students. This was in an effort to improve the demographic composition of the Fairfax County student body.
The Supreme Court has long held that facially neutral policies can be considered unconstitutional racism if evidence is presented that favours some groups over others. However, the defendants are unable to prove that they would have implemented the policy even if those motivations were not present. It is what occurred here. It was the exact opposite. Washington PostThis is an excellent summary of the ruling.
Federal Judge ruled Friday that the new admissions system at Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology (a highly regarded magnet program located in Fairfax) discriminates against Asian American applicants and should be ended
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….”
TJ’s first admissions change took place in 2021. Officials enrolled the largest ever class. TJ’s Class of 2025 has more Black, Hispanic, or low-income students than any other class. However, the Asian American population dropped to about 70 percent from around 50% of the class.
The changes were controversial from the start; they inspired two swift lawsuits…..
[Judge Hilton]Fairfax superintendent and Fairfax school board members made it clear throughout the revision process that they wanted TJ to reflect the “demographics of the surrounding areas, described primarily racially.” Hilton wrote that Hilton believes this goal amounts “racial-balancing for it’s own sake” which is patently unconstitutional.
He highlighted text messages and email exchanges between Fairfax District school board members with some of the most high-ranking Fairfax school officials. These communications, he wrote, prove that the school system’s goal was always to decrease the percentage of Asian American students enrolled at TJ — to increase the number of Black and Hispanic students.
Hilton said that TJ admissions were contaminated by talk about racial equality from the beginning.
According to the court, the new admissions policies ensured that admissions slots were distributed in a way that restricted the admissions of middle schools. This resulted in fewer people being admitted from schools that have large Asian-American populations. Judge Hilton went through the vast evidence that showed “racial balanced” was the key motive for the new policy.
He does not, however, mention evidence that some decision-makers were also motivated by bias against Asian-American students, such as claims that having too many of them would damage TJ’s “culture,” negative stereotypes about Asian-American parents and students, and state legislator Mark Keam’s fulminations about the “unethical ways” Asian-American parents “push their kids into [TJ]When parents “not only aren’t going to remain in America”, but are instead “using” it. [TJ]to be accepted into Ivy League universities and to return home to their country. Keam’s words are true because Fairfax County officials were subject to pressure by the state, Judge Hilton found.
Since Coalition for TJ The Supreme Court decided that two lawsuits challenging the racial preference in higher education were heard. The lawsuit against Harvard University is one of the two. It involves discrimination against Asian Americans, similar to what happened in TJ. These cases were covered in articles by The Boston GlobeNBC.
The TJ case, however, addresses issues which are different from the ones in the Supreme Court new cases. The TJ case’s admissions policy doesn’t discriminate on race grounds, but it is facially neutral and motivated by racial considerations. These pretextual discrimination cases are not new. However, it would be the first such ruling against any policy that promotes affirmative actions or racial equality. The case does not involve university admissions, but K-12 education.
If Harvard’s policy gets ruled against by the Supreme Court as observers anticipate, public and university school officials may seek less specific ways to lower the Asian American student body to ensure that they promote the rights of students from other races and cultures. TJ’s case may set a good precedent in how courts deal with such policies.
TJ’s admissions policy is now invalidated, at least temporarily. Judge Hilton’s decision is summary judgment. It means the facts were so clear in favor of plaintiffs that no trial was required.
The Fairfax County School Board will likely appeal to the US Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit. This case may even end up before the Supreme Court.
Note: Alison Somin, my wife is one of Pacific Legal Foundation’s public interest lawyers. She represents the plaintiffs in TJ. Links in one of my posts on this case show that I’ve been writing about such issues long before Alison started working for PLF. My views remain the same today as before Alison.