Fourteenth Amendment

If SCOTUS rules against racial preferences, this 4th Circuit decision presents next issue

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A laptop that has pulled up a school admissions webpage, sitting on a desk with school equipment

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If the U.S. Supreme Court restricts the consideration of race in college admissions, there is another looming issue: whether schools can use race-neutral tools that boost diversity.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Richmond, Virginia, considered that issue when it upheld an Alexandria, Virginia, high school’s admissions policy that increased the percentage of Black and Hispanic students, allegedly at the expense of Asian American students.

The New York Times covered the 2-1 decision and said “it is a decent bet” that the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case.

According to the New York Times, the admissions program at the magnet school caused the percentage of Asian American students to decrease from 73% to 54%.

At the same time, the percentage of Black students increased from no more than 2% to 7%, the percentage of Hispanic students increased from 3% to 11%, and the percentage of white students increased from 18% to 22%.

The Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology achieved those results with a few major steps. It eliminated consideration of standardized tests, and it gave each public middle school in its area a number of seats equal to 1.5% of the school’s eighth grade population.

Students within each school district are evaluated based on grade-point average, a “portrait sheet” describing an applicant’s skills, a problem-solving essay and four “experience factors.” Those factors include the student’s special education status, eligibility for free or reduced-price meals, status as an English-language learner, and attendance at a historically underrepresented public middle school.

Admissions officials weren’t told the race of the applicants. Nor were they told the name, ethnicity or sex of the applicants, who were identified only by numbers.

In its May 23 decision, the 4th Circuit ruled that the policy does not violate equal protection guarantees of the 14th Amendment. There was no showing of discriminatory intent by the school board, and there is no precedent requiring a comparison of an ethnic group’s performance under the old and new policies, the appeals court majority said in an opinion by Judge Robert B. King.

The proper metric, the 4th Circuit said, requires an evaluation of a given racial or ethnic group’s share of the number of applications to the high school with the share of offers extended.

Under that metric, Asian American applicants accounted for 48.59% of the applicants to the class of 2025, but they received 54.36% of admissions offers. They were the only racial or ethnic group to receive offers “notably in excess of its share of the applicant pool,” wrote King, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton.

The new policy also increased the number of low-income Asian American students and the number of Asian American students from historically underrepresented schools.

In a dissent, Judge Allison Jones Rushing, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, said the admissions policy “shows an undisputed racial motivation and an undeniable racial result” that violates the equal protection clause.

The case is Coalition for TJ v. Fairfax County School Board.

Hat tip to How Appealing.

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