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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Slattery

Coalition for TJ v. Fairfax County School Board

In "America's Next Top Petition," we highlight noteworthy cert petitions.

Why do we care?

Last term, the Court rejected the use of rigid racial preferences in college admissions in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina. While the Court previously approved the limited use of race in admissions for publicly funded colleges and those that accept federal funding, it has never explicitly extended that to K-12 school admissions. This case presents the Court with the opportunity to rule on the use of racial proxies in K-12 education.

What's the background?

Coalition for TJ v. Fairfax County School Board concerns the admissions practices at a competitive magnet high school in Northern Virginia. Before 2020, admission was primarily based on standardized tests taken by applicants who met minimum qualifications, such as maintaining a 3.0 GPA and completing Algebra 1. Applicants who achieved minimum test scores advanced to a semifinalist round. Accepted students were selected from the semifinalists based on a holistic review that incorporated teacher recommendations and their responses to writing and problem-solving prompts.

The school board overhauled the admissions process in 2020 in an effort to have the racial makeup of the student body, which was then over 70 percent Asian American, mirror the school district's demographics. The school board eliminated the standardized tests and replaced them with a holistic review that considered GPA, a problem solving essay, and "experience factors," such as eligibility for free or reduced price lunches and attendance at an underrepresented middle school.

How did this case get to SCOTUS? The Coalition for TJ, a group of parents whose children applied to TJ, filed a civil rights lawsuit against the school board. The coalition alleged the school board sought to reduce Asian American enrollment at TJ, thus violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia held that the school board acted with discriminatory intent and its actions could not survive strict scrutiny. The board appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The three-judge panel reversed the district court, with one judge dissenting. The Coalition for TJ petitioned the Supreme Court for review.

What's the question presented?

Whether the Board violated the Equal Protection Clause when it overhauled the admissions criteria at TJ.

Click here to view the docket, including the petition for a writ of certiorari, amicus briefs, and a brief in response (when filed).

DISCLAIMER: Elizabeth's employer, Pacific Legal Foundation, represents the petitioner. Anastasia’s employer, the Cato Institute, filed an amicus brief.


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