The Supreme Court leaves in place the admissions plan at an elite Virginia public high school

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld admissions policies at a public high school in Virginia, despite claims that they discriminate against highly qualified Asian Americans.

A federal appeals court panel in Richmond upheld the constitutionality of a revamped admissions policy at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, often ranked among the nation’s best.

Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented from the order denying an appeal from parents. The appeals court essentially ruled that “intentional racial discrimination is constitutional as long as it is not too severe,” Alito wrote.

The Supreme Court’s hearing of the case followed the June decision that struck down college and university admissions policies that took into account the race of applicants.

The Fairfax County School Board overhauled the admissions process in 2020 and eliminated a standardized test. The new policy gives weight to candidates who are economically disadvantaged or still learning English, but does not take race into account.

The effect in the first freshmen admitted under it was an increase in the percentage of black students from 1% to 7% and Hispanic students from 3% to 11%. Both groups have been grossly underrepresented for decades. Asian American representation dropped from 73% to 54%.

In 2022, a federal judge ruled that the school board engaged in impermissible “racial balancing” when it reviewed admissions.

The parents who challenged the policy say it discriminates against Asian American applicants who would have been granted admission if academic merit had been the only criterion, and that efforts to increase representation of Black and Latinx people necessarily come at the expense of Asian Americans.