In early October 2020, the school board at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (“TJ”) in Fairfax County, Virginia approved changes to the admissions system with a view toward fashioning a more diverse student body. Seventeen families sued, calling the removal of the test and application fee “an illegal and arbitrary decision.” The Fairfax County Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of the School Board, denying the motion for preliminary injunction and declining to mandate the School Board reinstate the admissions test.
Further changes in the admissions process were approved In late December and these became the focus of a new lawsuit, brought by Coalition of TJ. The group is being represented by Pacific Legal Foundation, a legal group that has been sharply critical of affirmative action.
The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on March 10, 2021. Much like the complaint filed by SFFA against Harvard, the Coalition of TJ alleges the school’s admission policy violates the Fourteenth Amendment by intentionally discriminating against the admission of Asian-American students in favor of admitting Black and Hispanic students. The Complaint alleges the new admissions policy’s plan to automatically admit the top 1.5% of students from each middle school in the district would act as an unnatural cap and disproportionately impact Asian-American students.
On February 25, 2022 the District Court issued a Memorandum Opinion in which it held that the policy was unconstitutional. The court agreed with the plaintiffs that the new policy was a deliberate attempt to admit more African American and Hispanic students and, as such, did by both design and effect discriminate against Asian Americans. It noted that the applicable Supreme Court precedents made it clear that the attainment of a “diverse” student body in K-12 schools via “holistic” admissions had not been approved by the Court, which expressly rejected that course of action in Parents Involved in Community Schools, Inc. v. Seattle School District No 1 (2007). The Fairfax County School Board filed an appeal with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and filed a motion to stay the District Court’s order pending appeal.
On April 8, 2022, the Coalition for TJ filed an emergency petition on the Supreme Court’s shadow docket to vacate the stay. The Fairfax County School Board filed its response on April 13 and the Coalition’s reply brief was filed on April 15.