Court: Race legal in admissions

By the Associated Press

The New York Times, December 4, 2000

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal appeals court ruled Monday the University of Washington Law School acted legally when it considered the race of applicants in its now-abandoned admission policy.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision means publicly funded schools throughout the circuit, which includes most western states, can continue to use affirmative action programs, said Dan Tokaji, staff attorney for the USC chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which supported the university in its case. Regardless, the ruling will not affect current admissions in Washington and California, where voters have banned race considerations in admission policies, he said.

The lawsuit was brought by Katuria Smith, Angela Rock and Michael Pyle, who say they were denied admission to the region’s largest and most prestigious law school because they are white.

Michael Rosman, a lawyer for the Center for Individual Rights, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit agency that opposes affirmative action and represented the trio, said his clients “still want damages for having been subjected to discrimination when they were applying.” Two of the three attended different schools and paid higher tuition than they would have paid at the University of Washington, he said.

Monday’s ruling cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1978 Bakke v. University of California decision, in which the high court struck down the use of racial quotas in school admissions but allowed schools to consider race in deciding which students to accept. The ruling puts the 9th Circuit in direct conflict with the 5th Circuit court, which includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. In 1996, a three-judge panel of that court ruled in favor of four white students who sued the University of Texas, saying its law school did not admit them because of their race. The ruling led to an injunction banning universities from using race as a factor in admission policies.

“We are well aware of the fact that much has happened since Bakke was handed down,” said Judge Ferdinand F. Fernandez, writing for the three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit. “Since that time, the court has not looked upon race-based factors with much favor.

Still, it has not returned to the area of university admissions.” Rosman said his clients haven’t decided whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. They say that while the university’s admissions policy may have been constitutional, it also may have been applied incorrectly. But David J. Burman, the university’s lawyer, said the students do not have much of a case.

“We’re optimistic that, at some point, they’ll choose to drop it,” he said. A message was not immediately returned from the assistant attorney general’s office in Seattle representing the University of Washington.