Supreme Court OKs ‘race neutral’ admissions policy to admit more Black, Latino students

The Supreme Court of the United States building,
The Supreme Court sided with a Virginia school board in an admissions case.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The Supreme Court on Monday cleared the way for a Virginia school board to admit more Black and Latino students — and slightly fewer Asian students — to a magnet high school for math and science.

The justices, over three dissents from conservatives, agreed with a federal appeals court that the school board may use “race neutral” means, including family income, to admit more Black and Latino students to the highly selective Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch voted to block the new policy, but gave no reasons for their decisions.

Lawyers for some parents had sued to challenge the change in the admissions policy, which they said discriminated against Asian American students. A federal trial judge agreed and ruled the board’s new policy amounted to illegal “racial balancing.”


But that ruling was blocked by an appeals court in late March. Monday’s one-line order by the Supreme Court allows the new policy to go into effect.

Prior to 2020, about 70% of the admitted students at Thomas Jefferson were Asian Americans, but that percentage fell to 54% under the new policy.

In its defense, the school board said its admissions policy did not consider the racial or ethnic identity of any students. Instead, it achieved greater diversity by setting aside slots for students from all 26 middle schools in Fairfax County.

Previously more than 80% of the students came from six high-achieving “feeder” schools.

The new policy also dropped several standardized tests that were used to rank applicants, as well as the $100 fee to apply. Moreover, the new policy gave extra consideration to students who came from low-income households.

Lawyers for the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative advocacy group based in Sacramento that had sued on behalf of several parents, filed an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court. They said the board’s policy should be blocked because of its “intent to discriminate against Asian American applicants.”

They noted the high court has agreed to hear a similar appeal arguing that Harvard University discriminates against Asian Americans in its admissions policy. But unlike in the Virginia high school case, Harvard acknowledges it considers the race and ethnicity of applicants in deciding whom to admit.

Under the new admissions policy at Thomas Jefferson, the entering freshman class would be 54% Asian, 22% white, 11% Latino and 7% Black, the board said.

Countywide, the demographic breakdown of all high school students is 38% white, 27% Latino, 19.5% Asian and 10% Black.