I-200 deflates suit against law school

U.S. District Court judge rules part of Smith’s case moot

By Eric Feigenbaum

The Daily (University of Washington), February 12, 1999

In a way, the voters took the wind out of Katuria Smith’s sails. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Zilly decided earlier this week that Initiative 200 has rendered parts of former UW law school applicant Katuria Smith’s lawsuit against the UW moot.

Zilly in turn dismissed the class-action element of the case and the portion that sought to bar the continued use of UW’s racially preferential admissions policy.

Zilly found that since I-200 has already forced UW to change its admissions policy to ignore applicants’ race and ethnicity, there is no need to determine whether or not the old policy can be allowed in the future.

However, the judge will still hear Smith and two other former law applicants’ case, determining if they deserve damages for being discriminated against under UW’s former admissions policy.

Smith is a white female who was denied admission to the UW School of Law in 1994. She claimed UW accepted minority applicants with lower grades and LSAT scores than hers when she filed the federal lawsuit in 1997. She later made it a class action suit and added two other former applicants who requested specific damages.

Terence Pell, senior counsel for Smith’s case and an attorney for the Center for Individual Human Rights in Washington D.C., said the UW won its motion for dismissal in these areas because of I-200.

“In terms of our view of the case, it remains the same,” Pell said. “That means it has potential for nationwide effect.”

Pell said that despite losing the class-action status and the potential to affect UW’s future admissions policies, the precedent a Smith victory could be a defining civil rights decision – even when dealing solely with the constitutionality of the old rules.

Pell compared the situation to the Texas v. Hopwood case, which also curbed the use of racial preferences in governmental agencies – specifically higher education.

Steven Hemmat, the Seattle attorney who is also working on Smith’s case, believes the plaintiffs will likely receive damages for the UW’s failure to admit them.

“Certainly we would rather have this as a class action, but we do not consider this any form of defeat,” Hemmat said.

Neither UW President Richard McCormick nor Dean of Law Roland Hjorth were available for comment.