Miyares files Supreme Ct. brief against Thomas Jefferson High’s admissions policy

A total of 16 attorneys general, led by Virginia’s Republican attorney general Jason Miyares, filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court against the admissions practices at Fairfax County’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

Late last month, a three-judge appeals panel ruled that Fairfax County Public Schools can continue to use its new admissions policy at Thomas Jefferson High School while it appeals a ruling that found the new policy discriminates against Asian American students.

On Monday, however, the group Coalition for TJ filed an emergency application with the Supreme Court seeking to vacate the stay. The Fairfax County County School Board has filed its response, which includes charts and graphs defending its new admissions policy.

In filing the friend of the court brief, Miyares calls the new policy discriminatory, saying it targets Asian American students.

“Right now, there are innocent Virginians unfairly treated and punished not for anything they’ve done, but because of who they are. Thomas Jefferson High School’s new admissions process is state sanctioned bigotry — it’s wrong, and it’s the exact opposite of equality. As Attorney General, I’ll never stop fighting for the equal treatment and protection of all Virginians,” Miyares said in a news release.

The case has been closely watched as courts continue to evaluate the role that racial considerations can play when deciding who should be admitted to a particular school. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a similar case alleging that Harvard University discriminates against Asian Americans in its admissions process.

Asian American students make up about 70% of the student body at Thomas Jefferson, one of the nation’s top ranked schools. The school is considered a steppingstone to Ivy League colleges and universities.

Previously, the school system used a merit-based admissions process to select students.

The school system changed the admissions policy in 2020 to boost diversity. In addition to tough course loads, high grade-point averages and problem-solving skills, the application process takes into account the socioeconomic status of an applicant, as well as whether the student has a disability and whether the student speaks English at home. The school system also wanted to open slots to students who attended middle schools that traditionally have not sent students to the elite high school.

The school system has called the new selection system “race blind” and has insisted that its new policies are race neutral because the panel reviewing the applications does not know the race of each applicant.

U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton rejected the new policy in a February ruling, saying that impermissible “racial balancing” was at its core. Hilton also rejected a request from the school system to delay the implementation of his ruling. But the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 ruling, said the school board had met the legal requirements for a suspension of Hilton’s order while its appeal is pending.

The 4th Circuit panel in March agreed with school officials who argued that because the selection process for the incoming freshman class is well underway, implementing Hilton’s ruling now would throw the process into chaos. The March 31 ruling let the 2,500 student who applied for spots in the Class of 2026 to continue in the review process.

Judge Toby Heytens wrote that he has “grave doubts” about Hilton’s conclusions “regarding both disparate impact and discriminatory purpose” of the new admissions policy.

“In my view, appellant Fairfax County School Board is likely to succeed in its appeal,” Heytens wrote.

Amicus briefs are filed for a number of reasons, including when the outcome of a case will set a precedent. In addition to Miyares, the amicus brief is signed by attorneys general in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.

WTOP’s Jack Moore and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Colleen Kelleher

Colleen Kelleher is an award-winning journalist who has been with WTOP since 1996. Kelleher joined WTOP as the afternoon radio writer and night and weekend editor and made the move to WTOP.com in 2001. Now she works early mornings as the site's Senior Digital Editor.

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