Case Update: Preliminary Injunction Sought Against Alleged Anti-Asian Admissions Changes At VA’s Thomas Jefferson High
“The need for an injunction became more and more apparent with each passing day after we filed the complaint. This injunction would not only protect the Coalition for TJ members’ 8th grade children, whose TJ applications are pending right now under the new discriminatory policy, but would also allow the next round of Asian-American applicants, and the round after them if necessary, to compete on an equal footing.”
In March 2021, we covered a lawsuit filed alleging proposed changes in admissions criteria to the top-ranked public Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) were motivated by a desire to reduce the percentage of students of Asian descent at the school, and to increase the percentages of Blacks and Hispanics.
We covered the controversy in Lawsuit Alleges Anti-Asian Discrimination In Admissions Change At Top-Ranked Virginia High School. Please see that post for the details on the allegations and a copy of the Complaint.
According to the Court electronic docket, none of the defendants have yet answered the Complaint, but on April 23, 2021, the plaintiff filed a Notice of Motion for Preliminary Injunction and supporting Memorandum. According to the court docket, a hearing is currently scheduled for May 21, 2021.
The Introduction to the supporting Memorandum spells out the grounds for prompt injunctive relief:
Plaintiff Coalition for TJ, an organization of approximately 5,000 concerned parents of school-age children in and around Fairfax County, Virginia, challenges recent revisions of the admissions policy at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (known as “TJ”), the nation’s top-ranked public high school. These admissions policy changes—adopted with little warning or community input—eliminated the standardized TJ admissions test a mere one month before it was scheduled to be administered and replaced it with a geographic quota and “holistic” evaluation.
The Coalition alleges in its complaint and demonstrates through this motion that Defendants—the Superintendent and the Fairfax County School Board—implemented these changes to the admissions policy to limit the number of Asian-American students who are admitted to TJ. These changes violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because they are race-based and not narrowly tailored to further any compelling government interest. ECF 1, ¶¶ 63–65 (hereinafter Compl.). Based on the evidence presented here, the Coalition seeks a preliminary injunction prohibiting Defendants from applying the challenged admissions policy to the freshman classes entering TJ in the fall of 2021, the fall of 2022, and beyond while this litigation is pending.
The Coalition projects that under the new admissions policy, Asian-American enrollment for the incoming Class of 2025 (entering in the fall of 2021) will decrease by approximately 42 percentage points compared with the earlier policy. Under the Equal Protection Clause, Defendants’ racial motivation for changing the admissions policy, particularly when coupled with such a substantial effect, shifts the burden to Defendants to prove that the new admissions policy satisfies strict scrutiny by being narrowly tailored to further a compelling government interest.
Defendants cannot satisfy this most demanding standard of review. They have no compelling interest in achieving their preferred racial balance at TJ. And even if they could establish a compelling interest in changing TJ’s racial composition, the challenged admissions policy is not narrowly tailored to further any conceivable interest Defendants might have. Therefore, the Coalition is likely to succeed on the merits of its equal protection claim, satisfying the first and most important preliminary injunction factor.
The other factors are also satisfied. Being forced to compete in a race-based system with fewer available seats denies the Coalition members’ children their equal protection rights and establishes irreparable harm. Defendants, meanwhile, would not be harmed by an injunction against administering an unconstitutional admissions policy, and it serves the public interest to assure that Virginia’s largest public school district does not violate its students’ equal protection rights.
For the reasons set forth below, this Court should grant Plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction, without which the challenged plan will impact imminent admissions decisions.
I was surprised that the plaintiffs had not moved for a preliminary injunction at the start of the case, and inquired of Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents the plaintiffs, why the motion was filed now. I received the following response, attributed to Attorney Erin Wilcox:
“The need for an injunction became more and more apparent with each passing day after we filed the complaint. This injunction would not only protect the Coalition for TJ members’ 8th grade children, whose TJ applications are pending right now under the new discriminatory policy, but would also allow the next round of Asian-American applicants, and the round after them if necessary, to compete on an equal footing. It tells those 6th and 7th graders that they should keep working hard towards their dream of attending TJ. And the country is watching. Other school districts with specialized schools are considering similarly discriminatory admissions policies or have already put them in place. An injunction now sends a strong message that those kinds of policies will not be tolerated.”
The Court docket further indicates that the defendants are planning on filing motions to dismiss the case. So the next month or two may be legally determinative of whether the new, allegedly anti-Asian, admissions criteria will be applied to pending applications and incoming classes.
We will continue to follow the case.
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