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Attorney General Bonta Urges Appellate Court to Reject Attack on Philadelphia Effort to Support Education Access for Underserved Communities

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today joined a coalition of 20 attorneys general in an amicus brief urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to reject a challenge to the School District of Philadelphia’s race-neutral admissions policy aimed at increasing access to education for underserved communities. In the friend-of-the-court brief, the coalition calls on the appellate court to uphold the district court’s ruling — protecting the ability of states to implement effective, inclusive policies to support all individuals, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or background — and highlights the states’ interest in eradicating discrimination in all its forms. 

“Every child deserves a chance to get a good education and get ahead,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Admission policies like Philadelphia’s help break down barriers to access and foster greater equity. At the California Department of Justice, we won’t stand idly by when some try to punish schools for simply supporting underserved communities. I urge the appellate court to reject this attack on Philadelphia’s school admissions policy.”

In 2021, the School District of Philadelphia adopted a race-neutral policy for admitting students to four of the district’s elite, college preparatory schools. The policy sought to increase access to the schools for qualified students from underrepresented communities who achieve sufficient academic success by helping them qualify for admission through a lottery-based system. On April 19, 2022, the policy was challenged in court and the plaintiffs sought to preliminarily block the policy from going into effect. That challenge was denied on August 8, 2022 with the court indicating that the “[p]laintiffs’ so-called ‘smoking gun’ is, at this stage, merely smoke” and that the plaintiffs’ claim of blatantly unconstitutional race-based admission “is, as of yet, unsupported by the record.” The case is now currently on appeal and the attorneys general are calling on the appellate court to uphold the lower court’s decision. The amicus brief by the attorneys general in this case builds on previous work to support local efforts out of Massachusetts and Virginia to address ongoing discrimination and increase access to education for all students regardless of race or socioeconomic background. 

In the amicus brief, the attorneys general assert:

  • Adopting the plaintiffs’ theory risks imposing drastic and far-reaching consequences in the many realms in which policymakers necessarily are aware of and consider policies’ impact across racial groups;
  • A race-neutral school admissions policy is not subject to strict scrutiny simply because policymakers may have been aware of its potential impact on various demographic groups, including racial groups; and
  • The appellate should affirm the district court’s decision.

In filing the amicus brief, Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington.

A copy of the amicus brief is available here.