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U. of Washington affirmative action trial begins

CIR clients get their day in court against Law School after 5-year battle

Washington, D.C. – A trial to determine the constitutionality of minority admissions preferences at the University of Washington Law School begins today at 9:00 a.m. in federal district court in Seattle. The trial before Judge Thomas Zilly marks the culmination of a five-year legal battle by rejected white applicants Katuria Smith, Angela Rock, and Michael Pyle, who sued the Law School after being subjected to more rigorous admissions standards than those applied to minority applicants. The three plaintiffs in Smith v. University of Washington Law School will attempt to prove at trial that the resulting discrimination was a violation of their rights under both the Constitution and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The three are represented by the Center for Individual Rights (CIR) in Washington, DC.

The University does not deny that it treated minority applicants preferentially, but — like many universities nationwide – it justifies its race-based admissions system by pointing to Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell’s lone 1978 opinion in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. Justice Powell said race could be used in admissions as one of many factors to achieve intellectual diversity in the student body, but said racial balancing and a dual admissions standard were unconstitutional. None of the other eight Supreme Court Justices endorsed Powell’s diversity rationale. However, unlike the other U.S. Courts of Appeal to address the issue, the Ninth Circuit ruled in the Smith case that Powell’s standard is the governing law. Judge Zilly must now determine whether the Law School violated that standard.

CIR General Counsel Michael Rosman will demonstrate to the court this week that the Law School had exactly the type of dual admissions system that Powell’s standard prohibits. For example, Mr. Rosman will point to evidence showing that, for some combinations of GPA and LSAT score, every black applicant was admitted, while not a single non-minority was accepted. This dual standard – in place until Washington voters banned racial preferences in 1998 – was designed to ensure that about one-third of each entering class consisted of minorities. As additional evidence that the school was more interested in racial balancing than intellectual diversity, Rosman will show that only minority applicants received letters from the Law School asking them to provide information about their contribution to diversity. As a result, Katuria Smith, who was born poor to a single teenage mother, and worked as a janitor, construction worker, and cattle auction hand, was deemed to contribute nothing to diversity.

“Given the strength of the evidence, we begin this trial with a lot of confidence,” stated Curt Levey, CIR’s Director of Legal & Public Affairs. Mr. Levey explained that “while Justice Powell sanctioned the use of race as a small plus factor, the evidence reveals that race played a dominant role in the Law School’s admissions system. The school’s purported interest in diversity will be shown to be little more than a cover for engineering a preferred racial composition of students.” “With the legality of race-based admissions in this country hanging by a thread, the verdict in the Smith case will have a big impact nationwide,” Levey added.