Smith v. University of Washington Law School

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5-year battle for color-blind admissions at U. Washington Law School Continues
April 8, 2002

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[April 8, 2002 -- Washington, DC]   A trial to determine the constitutionality of minority admissions preferences at the University of Washington Law School began on April 8, 2002 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 were 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 in Bakke endorsed Powell's diversity rationale. However, unlike the other U.S. Courts of Appeal to address the issue, the Ninth Circuit ruled in the current Smith case that Powell's standard is the governing law. Judge Zilly must now determine whether the Law School violated that standard.

          Counsel for the plaintiffs (Smith et al) is CIR General Counsel Michael Rosman.  He will demonstrate to the court this week that the U. Washington Law School had exactly the type of dual admissions system that Powell's 1978 Bakke 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 (via Initiative 200) - 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."  Levey also added: "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."

For Additional Information:

Contact:  Center for Individual Rights (CIR)
Attention:  Curt Levey
Phone 202-833-8400, extension 114

Web Site:

CIR is a national public interest law firm specializing in civil rights, First Amendment issues, and constitutional limits on federal power. CIR has directly litigated and won important Supreme Court cases in each of these areas.

Reverse-bias case against UW heard in federal court (4/10/02)

Excerpted from the Seattle Times story by Times Tan Vinh as it appeared in the Seattle Times on 4/10/02

          "Katuria Smith, Angela Rock and Michael Pyle thought their grades and test scores were as good as any applicant at the University of Washington School of Law.

          "But when the three white students were denied admission in the mid-1990s, each became convinced that minorities with lower scores had been admitted instead.

          "A reverse-discrimination lawsuit against the UW by the three students is being heard this week in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

          "[The racial quota rules which were used by U. Washington to deny admission to the three plaintiffs were] based on the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court Bakke ruling, which [in a fractured, minority opinion from the high court] allowed colleges to use race as one of many factors in admissions policies when a compelling interest for such preferences existed.

          "Critics argue that colleges interpret that too liberally. The Center of Individual Rights, a Washington, D.C.-based group that represents the plaintiffs, thinks the UW Law School used race as the "dominant" criteria in selecting students for admissions.

          "According to court documents, [Katuria] Smith, who was denied admission at UW in 1994, had a 3.28 grade-point average and a Law School Assessment Test (LSAT) score in the 94th percentile. She eventually attended Seattle University and now practices law in New York City.

          "[Angela] Rock, who was denied admission in 1995, had a 3.65 grade average and an LSAT score in the 93rd percentile. She was admitted to Georgetown Law School and practices law in Las Vegas.

          "[Michael] Pyle, who was turned down for admission in 1996, had a 3.15 grade average and an LSAT score in the 97th percentile. In 1999, he was admitted to the UW Law School but pursued another career.

          In an attempt to defend the university's use of racial admissions criteria, one witness for the UW defense attempted to show that at least one of the plaintiffs, Ms. Angela Rock, would not have been admitted anyway based on the quality of her application essay.  The Seattle Times writes: "Kathy Swinehart, a UW admissions officer, testified Monday that [Angela] Rock's essay "was not the caliber of other applicants" and that Rock did not get exceptional grades in key courses."

          "A decision in favor of the plaintiffs means a hearing would be set up to determine monetary damages. "   (Excerpted from the 4/10/02 story in the Seattle Times by reporter Tan Vinh.)

Last Known Link to the Seattle Times Story:

END of Smith v. University of Washington Law School

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*  We use the term reverse discrimination reluctantly and only because it is so widely understood.  In our opinion there really is only one kind of discrimination.