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Federal Court Upholds UW Law School’s Use of Race

Federal Court Upholds UW Law School’s Use of RaceSEATTLE
A federal judge has ruled that the University of Washington Law School didn’t illegally discriminate against three White applicants when it denied them admission in the mid-1990s.
As a result, Katuria Smith, Angela Rock and Michael Pyle — who became poster children for the campaign to pass Initiative 200 in the state — are entitled to no damages, Judge Thomas Zilly said last month.
One year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court’s decision upholding the use of race as a factor in admission to a public law school (see Black Issues, June 21, 2001). In doing so, it sent the case of Smith, Rock and Pyle back to U.S. District Court in Seattle, where Zilly was to determine whether the law school’s former admissions policy, which considered race, was legally applied to Smith, Rock and Pyle.
The case was argued in April. In his 34-page ruling, Zilly wrote that probably none of the three applicants would have been admitted to the university even if race had not been considered.
The law school considered race as one factor in admissions until I-200 was passed by voters in 1998. I-200 eliminated state preference for women and minorities in education, hiring and contracting.
Supporters of I-200 said the case of Smith in particular highlighted their point.
“The Katuria Smith case was used as a real-world example to illustrate the point that government should not make distinctions among citizens based on race,” says Paul Guppy, an I-200 supporter and vice president of research at the Washington Policy Center.
Zilly acknowledged Smith would have been a strong candidate for the law school, but noted that 1994 presented the university with a particularly strong class of applicants.
“Smith would not have been admitted to the law school in 1994 under a race-neutral policy,” he wrote.
Jose Gaitan, a former president of the law school’s alumni association who also served as chairman of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Minorities in the Profession, said Zilly’s ruling illustrates that voters were duped by proponents of I-200.
“That was a cornerstone of the I-200 campaign,” says Gaitan, of Seattle. “And despite all of their claims to the contrary, discrimination hadn’t occurred at all.”
He said admissions policies that consider race are needed in American law schools to encourage minority law students. Non-Whites make up about one-third of the nation’s population, but just 8.3 percent of the nation’s lawyers, he said.
Guppy disagreed.
“Racial discrimination is wrong, whether it’s done by the government or individuals,” he says.  

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