© Reuters FILE PHOTO: Fairfax County school buses sit in a warehouse in Lorton, Virginia, U.S., July 22, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File photo
By Nat Raymond
(Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Friday cast doubt on claims that an admissions policy for a Virginia public high school discriminated against Asian Americans in a closely-watched challenge brought by a group of parents backed by a conservative law firm.
The Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has heard an argument by the Fairfax County School Board that a judge’s ruling that Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology’s admissions policy is discriminatory violates the United States Constitution’s 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the laws. .
During the hearing, Erin Wilcox, a lawyer with the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, representing the group Coalition for TJ, was asked by the jury how a racially insensitive admissions policy could be discriminatory.
The policy was approved by the school board in 2020 following racial disparities at the school, known as “TJ” and often among America’s best public high schools.
TJ is a magnet school in Alexandria with a selective admissions policy with a chronic underrepresentation of black and Hispanic students. Recognizing this, the board devised a policy that would eliminate uniform testing from the TJ admission process, determine how many students could come from each district’s middle schools, and guarantee seats to the best students from each of these schools.
“Racial discrimination by proxy is nothing new,” Wilcox told the three-judge 4th Circuit panel.
The case is another front in the US legal battle over school admissions policies that affect or affect the racial makeup of campuses.
On the face of it, the high school’s race-based policies are in contrast to those used by Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, which will be reviewed by the conservative US Supreme Court on October 31. That litigation gives the High Court a chance. To end affirmative action policies used by many colleges and universities to increase racial diversity on campus.
While enrollment of black and Hispanic students increased under TJ’s new policy, the proportion of Asian American students dropped from 73 percent to 54 percent in the first year, U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton said in a February ruling that the admissions rules improperly “balanced the racial balance.” “
Judge Toby Hayton, a nominee of Democratic President Joe Biden, told Wilcox during Thursday’s debate that under that logic, “any attempt to increase the representation of one group in your view discriminates against another.”
Former U.S. Attorney Don Verrilli, who represents the school board, said the “radical” argument by the challengers is that any state effort to increase opportunities for underrepresented groups violates the Constitution.
“It makes no sense to conclude that promoting equal opportunity is a dubious objective,” said Sidney Foster, a US Justice Department attorney who argued for the Biden administration.
The only panel member who seemed sympathetic to the opposition was Judge Alison Jones Rushing, who questioned whether trying to match a neutral policy in the face of state racial demographics was an “impermissible objective.”
Rushing, a Republican appointee of former President Donald Trump, appealed Hilton’s decision to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision in April that disagreed with the school board’s request for a delay.
In April, the Supreme Court rejected an emergency request to block the policy, although three conservative justices dissented. (This story edits parent group statement in first paragraph to clarify)