Disadvantaged single mother with 94th percentile wrong skin color for UW law school
Washington Times, April 1, 1997
She was born to a 17-year-old mother-turned-single parent, one of four siblings her mother raised alone. She did janitorial work, construction — anything, she told the Seattle Times, to pay the bills. And while she worked full time during the day, she also took classes at night to make something of herself. The work paid off when she graduated cum laude with a degree in business in 1992. Then she took entrance tests for law school, scoring in the 94th percentile. And she waited for admission to the University of Washington Law School, where she had done here undergrad work. That admission would never come.
For all the disadvantages Katuria Smith overcame to live out
her version of the American dream, there was a trivial but still
intractable one standing in her way: her skin color. It seems that a
former dean at the University of Washington Law School, Wallace Loh, added skin color to the institution’s admissions standards in the interest of racial diversity.
“A commitment to ‘diversity’ — that shorthand label for the
aspiration to racial, gender and other forms of equality of
opportunity in higher education and in the work force — is not only
the right thing to do, it’s the pragmatic thing to do in the global
arena of tomorrow,” Mr. Loh said in 1994. Unless, of course, you
happen to be the wrong color. Between 1990 and 1994, the percentage of minorities at the University of Washington Law School rose from 17.5 percent in 1989 to 43.3 percent in 1994. That didn’t leave much room for the Katuria Smiths of the world.
Ms. Smith has since filed suit against the school, charging
that it discriminated against her illegally. Helping her is the
Washington, D.C.-based Center for Individual Rights, an organization that specializes in dismantling state-sponsored racial quotas as well as the arguments of pious law school deans.
There is still more help on the way for residents of
Washington state. In the wake of the successful California Civil
Rights Initiative, proponents of a Washington State Civil Rights
Initiative announced last week that they have begun the formal
process of collecting signatures to put the issue to a vote as early
as 1998. “We don’t want some government official deciding which group is preferred and which group will be discriminated against,” said Tim Eyman, one of the initiative’s organizers, in a statement.
The language of the Washington state initiative is simple and
straightforward: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant
preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of
race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of
public employment, public education, or public contracting.” The
measure would not apply to private-sector programs.
It is a measure of how far this country has drifted from the
goals and timetables of the civil rights movement — not to mention
the power of a judiciary hostile to the plain meaning of landmark
federal anti-discrimination statutes — that 30 years later such an
initiative is still necessary. One of the prime supporters of he 1964
Civil Rights Act, Hubert Humphrey, insisted that “the simple and
complete truth” about the act is that it forbids discrimination
against anyone on account of race. The concept remains popular even today. Backers of the Washington initiative cite a statewide poll in January that showed 71 percent of registered voters oppose
discrimination or preferences based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or
No doubt there are some among the remaining 29 percent, like
Mr. Loh, who think there’s a case to be made for quotas and
preferences. Let’s start the debate, then, by allowing them to
explain to Katuria Smith why her skin color matters more than her
hard work when it comes to law school admissions.