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A Big Win for Students at the Supreme Court

Title page with photo of Thomas Jefferson High School

TJ and FCPS Win in Court after Three Years of Litigation

Fairfax County and Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) are celebrating a victory for its students, families, taxpayers, and schools because the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of the Coalition of TJ on February 20, 2024, thus permitting the May 2023 U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that ruled that TJ admissions did not constitute discrimination against Asian students. 

When Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, or “TJ” as it is known locally, began nearly 40 years ago in 1985, on the grounds of TJ High School, it is doubtful that anyone expected that it would become the political football that it has been for the last 4 years, much less that amicus briefs to the Supreme Court would be written on its behalf. Many thanks to the students, parents, organizations, and elected officials who worked together, under some surreal conditions, to ensure race-blind admissions for TJ became a reality. In the words of Karl Frisch, Fairfax County School Board chair:

We have long believed that the new admissions process is both constitutional and in the best interest of all of our students. It guarantees that all qualified students from all neighborhoods in Fairfax County have a fair shot at attending this exceptional high school. 

You may ask why this case matters so much. Well, there are multiple reasons:

  1. First, this is a hot topic, particularly in light of recent Supreme Court decisions in cases brought by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) against both Harvard and University of North Carolina (UNC). The Court ruled that those schools’ affirmative action programs violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, thus overruling 45 years of precedent that permitted “race conscious” admissions policies. 

  2. Second, schools across the nation are struggling to find ways to ensure geographic and economic diversity in admissions. In Fairfax County, the Coalition for TJ challenged efforts to create new race-blind admissions policies by declaring such changes to be discriminatory, which the 4th Circuit found “simply runs counter to common sense.” Speaking of common sense, it is important to note that neither the SFFA nor the Coalition for TJ case involved actual students, much less any students potentially harmed by admission policies.

  3. Third, the challenge to the reformed admissions policy at TJ was funded by Pacific Legal Foundation, which has deep pockets, other cases pending in the Supreme Court Docket, and a seemingly insatiable thirst to end any admission policies that even hint at efforts to improve campus diversity and equity.

As mentioned above, this is not the end of such school admissions challenges. Pacific Legal has made it clear that it plans to continue to chip away at efforts by schools to improve diversity and equity. They have seemingly unending resources to do so, which puts under-funded public school districts at a financial disadvantage, while also distracting schools, educators, and school boards from their core purpose of educating students! 

The Vice President of the TJ Alumni Action Group, an organization that worked for years to change TJ admissions, Jiunwei Chen, affirms this when he shared with the Washington Post that “There’s been a lot of back-and-forth around affirmative action. It is very much a hot topic and will continue to be so…. Even though it might be, knock on wood, over for TJ, it is definitely not over for other schools.”

4 Public Education thanks the Fairfax County School Board, FCPS, the FCPS lawyers and law firms, and all of the groups who filed amicus briefs in support of TJ’s race-blind admissions changes. We agree with John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice who said:

Increasing opportunity is the opposite of discrimination.

View of the logo and front office at TJ High School


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