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Appeals Panel Backs UW’s Use of Race in Law School Admissions

Appeals Panel Backs UW’s Use of Race in Law School Admissions

The University of Washington Law School did not illegally discriminate against three White applicants when it denied them admission in the mid-1990s, a federal appeals court panel ruled in December.

The decision upheld a 2002 ruling by U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly, and means Katuria Smith, Angela Rock and Michael Pyle are not entitled to damages.

The three became poster children for the campaign to pass Initiative 200, which eliminated state preferences for women and minorities in education, hiring and contracting.

Until the initiative passed in 1998, the law school considered race as one factor in admissions. The three argued that without the policy, they would have been admitted.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the Smith case — and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed in its University of Michigan Law School decision last year — that ensuring educational diversity was a legitimate goal of the state.

The case then returned to Zilly, who had to decide whether the policy was correctly applied to Smith, Rock and Pyle when they were denied admission from 1994-1996.

In 2002, Zilly found that it was, and that the three would not have been admitted even under a race-neutral admissions policy.

The three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit held off on hearing the appeal of that decision until the Supreme Court ruled in the University of Michigan case.

The Supreme Court’s ruling set out five criteria for public universities to use in establishing admissions policies that consider race. The policies must not use quotas; must consider the individual characteristics of each applicant; must consider race-neutral ways to encourage diversity; must not unduly harm any racial group member; and must have a sunset provision or some other end point.

The three-judge 9th Circuit panel found that the UW Law School’s admissions policy from 1994-1996 met those criteria.

Associated Press

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