The Fairfax County, Virginia, School Board had a “problem”: too many Asian eighth graders were earning admission to its highly selective magnet school, Thomas Jefferson High School. These bright young minds were just doing too well on standardized tests. And they seemed to mostly come from three middle schools with predominantly Asian populations.

But drat! Easily manipulable character scores would not do the trick here. After the school board members put their heads together, they found the perfect (race-neutral!) way to suppress Thomas Jefferson High School’s incoming Asian population: eliminate the standardized test score requirement and cap the number of students admitted from each middle school in Fairfax County.

Fairfax County’s admissions policy change demonstrates that a win for petitioners in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard would not necessarily be the end of racial preferences in admissions. It would just be the end of overt racial preferences in higher education. It would likely spawn a series of race-neutral subterfuges to achieve desired racial composition in admitted classes.

Colleges and universities may comply in good faith for a limited time. But as the aftermath of Proposition 209 in California showed, admissions officers can get cleverer in how they discriminate. Colleges and universities would no longer boast of their racially-discriminatory admissions policies as a badge of honor. Just a few years after Prop 209 passed, banning racial preferences in admissions to state universities, University of California schools found some race-neutral way to achieve their preferred racial balance. Discriminatory admissions policies will look different, sometimes even packaged in a desirable manner, such as a stride towards socioeconomic diversity or geographic diversity. Yet the use of race-neutral means to achieve race-conscious ends should be just as illegal as overt discrimination against students who indicate “Asian” in the race column.

Coalition for TJ is a challenge to the facially race-neutral but allegedly discriminatory policies of Fairfax County. Proponents of the new admissions policy argue that it is a permissible race-neutral means modeled after UT’s ten-percent plan to achieve the educational benefit of diversity. A group of parents whose children have applied or plan to apply to Thomas Jefferson High School founded Coalition for TJ in 2020 to oppose the Fairfax School Board’s change in admissions policy. Coalition for TJ sued on behalf of its members to stop the new admissions policy from taking effect.

A federal district judge last year ruled for Coalition for TJ, finding the Fairfax County School Board implemented an admissions policy whose purpose and result was to decrease the Thomas Jefferson High School’s Asian population. The Fourth Circuit stayed the district court’s judgment, and the Supreme Court declined to lift the stay. As of now, the Fairfax County School Board’s new admissions policy remains in place, but its future is uncertain.


If SFFA ends with an opinion striking down racial preferences but leaving the door open to race-neutral means of achieving race-conscious goals, Coalition for TJ will be the forerunner of the next wave of litigation that is likely to result. 

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