SCOTUS Declines to Block School's Diversity Policy

Parents said 'race-neutral' process discriminated against Asian Americans
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 20, 2024 4:57 PM CST
SCOTUS Won't Block Controversial Admissions Policy
The Supreme Court on Tuesday left in place the admissions policy at an elite public high school in Virginia, despite claims that it discriminates against highly qualified Asian Americans.   (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib, file)

The Supreme Court, with its two most conservative justices dissenting, has decided to leave a controversial admissions policy at a Virginia magnet school in place. The court declined to review the policy at the prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, which moved to boost diversity in 2020 by using what experts call "race-neutral" factors, the Washington Post reports. The Fairfax County School Board scrapped a standardized test and looked at factors including whether a student was economically disadvantaged, learning English, or from a "historically underrepresented" school.

The board also switched to prioritizing the top students from each public middle school in the district instead of the top students overall, but admissions officers were not told the name, race, or sex of any student, the New York Times reports. In the first freshman class admitted after the policy was introduced, the percentage of Black students went from 1% to 7% and the percentage of Hispanic students went from 3% to 11%, the AP reports. The percentage of Asian American students, however, went from 73% to 54% and a group of parents sued, calling the new policy discriminatory. A district court judge called the process "patently unconstitutional" in 2022, but an appeals court reversed the decision in May last year.

Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented to the decision to allow the policy to stand. Alito wrote that the appeal court's "aberrant" decision meant "intentional racial discrimination is constitutional so long as it is not too severe." He said the Virginia schools policy could become a road map for schools trying to get around the court's ruling against affirmative action last year, the Post reports. School board chair Karl Frisch said he welcomed the decision. "We have long believed that the new admissions process is both constitutional and in the best interest of all of our students," he said. (More US Supreme Court stories.)

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