You think higher ed’s discriminatory admissions policies are bad? Just wait until you hear about K-12

January 24, 2022 | By BRITTANY HUNTER

Today, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear the case, Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina.

The crux of the case rests in the question: Should racial preferences in university admissions be legal?

Harvard officials think so, as is evidenced by its own admissions process, which discriminates against Asian-American applicants seeking admissions to the school in order to ensure Harvard’s desired racial balance. The school considers “personality scores” instead of focusing solely on the merit of the candidate and, using this metric, has consistently rated Asian-American applicants lower than others. But although admissions officers consistently give lower “personality scores” to Asians, Harvard alumni, who interview the same students, assign much higher scores in considering applicants’ aptitude for leadership and teamwork. This may be because academic metrics alone would not lead to Harvard’s desired racial balance. When it comes to American SAT scores higher than 1500, Asian-American students account for 50% of test scores higher than 1500.

But the enrollment of Asian-American students at Harvard is far less than 50%. Instead, only 20% or less of Harvard’s student body has been Asian-American between 1995 and 2015.

Therein lies the issue at hand. Harvard’s policy is effectively targeting qualified students from getting the education they have been working toward for years.

In 2014, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) struck back, filing a civil rights lawsuit against the school. To be sure, Harvard is a private school, but because they accept federal funding, under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, they are still bound to abide by the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

Pacific Legal Foundation filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of SFAA, continuing our own mission to protect the constitutional guarantee of equality before the law.

Their claims were struck down in the lower courts that held Harvard’s admissions process to be legal.

But SFFA was not ready to give up, petitioning the Supreme Court to hear the case.

Today, that perseverance paid off. Not only did the Supreme Court decide to hear the Harvard case, it will also hear SFFA’s case against the University of North Carolina, dealing with the same issue.

Civil rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and others fought for the right of every American to be treated equally under the law, as the Fourteenth Amendment promises.

But in the decades since the civil rights movement, a disturbing trend has emerged.

Where universities were once at the epicenter of the fight for equality, they have now become breeding grounds for the belief that a person should be judged not by the content of their character but, rather, by the color of their skin.

Discriminatory school admissions policies are not limited to higher education.

In 2020, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ)—a Virginia-based public magnet school frequently ranked first in the nation—substituted its rigorous, merit-based admissions policies in favor of a “holistic” approach that would promote equity over equal opportunity.

While the school claimed that the new policy would make the school more diverse, the ugly truth behind this change was that it was designed specifically to target prospective Asian-American students. And this wasn’t just speculation, as the evidence clearly shows.

Before the new policy went into effect, Asian-American students from around 30 different countries made up about 70% of the student body, while white students accounted for about 20%. The remaining 10% was comprised of Hispanic and black students, as well as those who identify as “other.”

After the implementation, the number of Asian students at TJ dropped to 54%, while the percentage of every other group, including white students, increased.

Admittance to TJ should be based on a student’s merit, not on a student’s race. Using race as a factor in admissions is a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Represented by PLF, the Coalition for TJ, a parents’ organization, filed a federal lawsuit against the Fairfax County School Board, arguing that the new admission standards violate our children’s constitutional right to equal protection.

In May, U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton rejected the school district’s request to dismiss the case, noting from the bench, “Everybody knows the policy is not race-neutral, and that it’s designed to affect the racial composition of the school.”

Any day now, the district court will decide the fate of this case, ruling in favor of either the Coalition for TJ or the school board.

While the TJ and Harvard cases are not identical, they both argue for the principle that government policy should not treat students differently based on the color of their skin.

We congratulate Students for Fair Admissions on this important step and hope that this ruling is a sign of things to come, not only in the TJ case, but in any future instance of schools using race as a factor for admission.