Updated Feb 20, 2024 - Politics & Policy

SCOTUS declines to hear new case on race in school admissions

Image of the SCOTUS building with an American flag

The Supreme Court said on Tuesday it would not take up a case on race and standardized testing in high school admissions. Photo: Graeme Sloan/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to take up a case on admissions at a prestigious northern Virginia high school that eliminated standardized testing to diversify its student body.

Why it matters: The high court last year overturned decades of precedent by ending affirmative action — but left a path open for schools to consider other options to seek diversity.

  • The justices who declined to take up the case didn't provide a reason.
  • Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented.

Context: Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology adopted a new admissions policy in December 2020, which doesn't rely on standardized tests, and diversity at the school immediately increased, according to the appeals court's ruling.

  • The Fairfax County School Board sets the admissions policy for the school.
  • Previously, admission required four total standardized exams. Admitted cohorts were selected based on a holistic review that included test scores and teacher recommendations, according to the dissenting opinion.
  • This previous selection process, considered "race-blind," produced classes with high percentages of Asian American students, prompting action from education officials who said the student body didn't represent the racial and ethnic makeup of the public school district.

The lawsuit, brought by parents, students and community members as the Coalition for TJ, against the Fairfax County School Board, "alleged that the new admissions policy was based on intentional racial discrimination," the dissenting opinion said.

  • A district court previously agreed with the plaintiffs, but the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond overturned that decision 2-1 last year.
  • "The challenged admissions policy does not disparately impact Asian American students," a judge for the appeals court wrote. The court also ruled that the admissions change didn't have discriminatory intent.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with details throughout.

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