NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Court Strikes Down Affirmative Action In Public Schools

November 20, 1998

In the first federal appeals court ruling on affirmative action in public school admissions, a three-judge panel in Boston, Mass., yesterday struck down racial preferences at Boston Latin School, the city's most prestigious public high school. Observers say the decision may affect a number of school districts that admit students to so-called magnet schools on a competitive basis.

The challenge to Boston Latin was brought by a white student who was not admitted.

  • Half the students at Boston Latin are selected competitively, based on entrance examination scores and grates.
  • Admissions for the other half of the students are weighted by race.
  • For example, if 27 percent of the remaining qualified applicants, those from the top half of their class, are African-American, 27 percent of those admitted must black.

Boston Latin instituted a race preference program in 1975, when a federal court required the school set aside at least 35 percent of each entering class for black and Hispanic students -- a practice that continued until it was challenged in 1995.

The new, 2-to-1 appeals court decision overturned a federal judge's ruling in favor of the program. Appeals court Judge Bruce M. Selya says making race "a determining factor in the admission of a subset of each year's incoming classes, offends the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection."

Source: Tamar Lewin, "Court Ruling Blocks Affirmative Action at a Public School," New York Times, November 20, 1998.


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