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May 16, 2022

ATTORNEY GENERAL RAOUL DEFENDS EQUITY AND DIVERSITY IN SCHOOL ADMISSIONS

Raoul, AGs Argue Against Challenge to Renowned Virginia High School’s Race-Neutral Admissions Criteria that Promote Geographic, Socioeconomic, Racial Diversity

Chicago  — Attorney General Kwame Raoul, as part of a coalition of 16 attorneys general, filed an amicus brief in support of a local public school board in Fairfax County, Virginia, that was challenged in court for implementing a new race-neutral high school admissions policy. The policy was intended to eliminate barriers to access and increase the likelihood that the school’s students would receive the educational benefits that result from all forms of diversity, including racial diversity.

The amicus brief – filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in the case Coalition for TJ v. Fairfax County School Board – responds to the claim that the Fairfax County School Board violated the Equal Protection Clause in revising its admissions plan for its nationally top-ranked Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. The revised plan eliminated the high school’s use of standardized admissions tests in favor of a holistic review process that uses students’ grades and other race-neutral criteria to promote geographic, socioeconomic and racial diversity.

“All students – regardless of their race, family income level or address – have a right to educational opportunities that will facilitate success in life,” Raoul said. “Policies that discriminate against school diversity anywhere are a threat to students’ achievement everywhere, and I will continue to advocate for all students to have access to the quality educations they deserve.”

Today, Raoul and the attorneys general argued in support of the school board and against the district court’s broad decision to enjoin implementation of the revised admissions plan. The district court found that Asian American applicants were disparately impacted by the changed plan, and that the school board purposefully disadvantaged such applicants because any success in increasing representation at the school for under-represented racial groups “by necessity” would decrease the representation of others. The district court’s decision required the school board to devise a new admissions policy to use in admitting students for this coming fall, and the court denied the school board’s motion for a stay of the decision pending appeal. The 4th Circuit subsequently granted a stay of the district court’s order and, following an emergency application, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to vacate the stay. The school board has since appealed the district court’s decision.

Raoul and the attorneys general argue in their brief that race-neutral policies are not subject to strict scrutiny simply because policymakers aimed in part to increase diversity. The brief describes how the district court’s reasoning – inferring racial animus from a race-neutral effort to break down barriers to access and thereby increase diversity of various kinds, including socioeconomic, geographic and racial – would, if widely adopted, thwart future attempts by school leaders to secure important educational benefits for all students. Furthermore, adopting the court’s reasoning would threaten effective state and local government policymakers’ efforts to break down barriers to access and decrease inequities in other policy areas.

According to the brief, there is precedent stretching back decades that refutes the district court’s conclusion that a race-neutral government policy is subject to strict scrutiny solely because, in devising the policy, policymakers aimed to increase racial and other forms of diversity. Such scrutiny would be “perverse,” state the attorneys general: “governments would be severely constrained in their ability to serve all of their communities – and therefore would fall short for many.”

Joining Raoul in today’s brief are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.

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