Supreme Court will not hear new case on race and school admissions

The Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear a challenge to new admissions criteria at an elite public high school in Virginia that eliminated standardized testing, clearing the way for the use of a policy aimed at diversifying the school’s student body.

As usual, the court gave no reason to dismiss the case. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. issued a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, who sharply criticized an appeals court ruling in the case that upheld the new criteria and rejected the challengers’ argument that they harmed illegally targeting Asian Americans.

The Supreme Court’s “willingness to accept the abhorrent decision presented below is difficult to understand,” Justice Alito wrote. “We should wipe the decision from the books, and since the court refuses to do so, I must respectfully dissent.”

The Supreme Court in June struck down race-sensitive admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, but left open the constitutionality of admissions standards that don’t directly take race into account when trying to diversify enrollment. . Still, the majority opinion, from Chief Justice John. G. Roberts cited an earlier ruling that said: “what cannot be done directly cannot be done indirectly.”

The court’s decision not to take up the Virginia case, along with an order this month refusing to block West Point’s race-sensitive admissions program, suggests that most justices are unwilling to take immediate steps to explore the limits of his Virginia ruling. June.

The revisions to Virginia’s admissions program came in the wake of protests over the killing of George Floyd in 2020. Amid concerns about the few Black and Hispanic students attending the school, one of the nation’s top public high schools, the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia, adopted what it said were race-neutral admissions standards. The school board eliminated a rigorous entrance exam and offered admission to the top students from each area middle school rather than the top applicants from any school.

Admissions officers were also instructed to consider “experience factors,” such as whether students were poor, learning English, or attending a high school that was “historically underrepresented.” But officers were not told the race, sex or name of any applicant.

A group of parents, many of them Asian Americans, opposed the plan and, calling themselves Coalition for TJ., demanded to stop him.

But a divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Virginia, ruled in may that Thomas Jefferson did not discriminate in his confessions. The Pacific Legal Foundation, a libertarian legal group representing parents, asked the Supreme Court to hear their appeal, saying the new admissions plan was “intentionally designed to achieve the same results as overt racial discrimination.”

The Supreme Court’s decision in June in Students for Fair Admissions against Harvard, the coalition’s request said, “it might mean little if schools could achieve the same discriminatory result through race-neutral representatives.”

Lawyers for the school board responded that the new admissions criteria had nothing to do with race and focused rather on removing socioeconomic and geographic barriers.

“The new policy is both neutral and race-blind,” school board report saying. “It was not designed to produce, and in fact did not produce, a student population that approximates the racial demographics of Fairfax County or any other predetermined racial balance.”

After the changes went into effect in 2021, the percentage of Asian American students offered admission dropped from 73 percent to 54 percent. The percentage of black students increased from 2 percent to 8 percent; the percentage of Hispanic students increased from 3 percent to 11 percent; and the percentage of white students increased from 18 percent to 22 percent.

In Fairfax County School System In 2020, about 37 percent of students were white, 27 percent were Hispanic, 20 percent were Asian, and 10 percent were Black.

Representing the majority in the May appeals court decision, Judge Robert B. King, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, said before-and-after figures were not the right starting point. That, he said, citing the school board report, would turn “the status quo ante into an immutable fee.”

He added that the school had a legitimate interest in “broadening the variety of students’ backgrounds.”

Justice Alito, dissenting Tuesday, questioned that reasoning. “What the Fourth Circuit majority held, in essence, is that intentional racial discrimination is constitutional as long as it is not overly severe,” Justice Alito wrote. “This reasoning is indefensible and demands correction.”

He explained, citing a previous decision. “Although the new policy affected Asian American applicants ‘harder’ (because it decreased their chances of admission and improved the chances of all other racial groups), the majority of the panel held that there was no disparate impact because they were still overrepresented in the TJ student body,” Justice Alito wrote.

He added: “That is a clearly flawed understanding of what it means for a law or policy to have a disparate effect on members of a particular racial or ethnic group. Under the old policy, each Asian American applicant had a certain chance of admission. Under the new policy, that chance has been significantly reduced, while the chance of admission for members of other racial and ethnic groups has increased.”

Dissenting in the Fourth Circuit, Judge Allison J. Rushing, who was appointed by President Donald J. Trump, made a similar observation. Most, he wrote, had refused to “look beyond the neutral veneer of politics” and consider instead “an indisputable racial motivation and an undeniable racial outcome.”

The decision reversed a ruling from 2022 by Judge Claude M. Hilton of the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, who found that changes made by the school board had disproportionately burdened Asian American students and were “racially motivated.” The discussion over the planned changes, she wrote, was “infested with conversations about racial balance from its inception.”

“It is clear that Asian American students are disproportionately harmed by the board’s decision to review TJ’s admissions,” Judge Hilton wrote. “Currently and in the future, Asian American applicants are disproportionately deprived of a level playing field.”

The Supreme Court already had an encounter with the case, Coalition for TJ v. Fairfax County School Board, No. 23-170.

In April 2022, the court rejected an emergency request of the coalition to block the new admission criteria while the case moved forward. This was before the court’s decision in June banning higher education admissions based on race.

Still, the court’s three most conservative members — Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch — said they would have granted the request.