Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Not a Class Action

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Not a Class Action

Article excerpt

Not a Class Action: Judge rules that passage of Washington State's Initiative 200 downgrades status of reverse discrimination lawsuit

SEATTLE -- In a move that many observers feel undercuts the anti-affirmative action campaign, a federal judge has ruled that a reverse discrimination lawsuit against the University of Washington Law School can no longer have class-action status because of the passage of Initiative 200.

Only the damage claims of Katuria E. Smith and two others who brought the case will be considered, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas S. Zilly decided last month.

Ted Shaw, of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, says it could be anticipated that "the significance of the lawsuit...would be undercut given that you now have I-200" as law in the state.

"Its value as a precedent setter is diminished," he says. "Now, there is not a need for a federal court to announce a broad principle of law that is applicable constitutionally because the state law eliminates [that need]."

One goal of the suit, filed in March 1997, was to bar the university from giving minority applicants special consideration in admissions. She and the other two plaintiffs also sought unspecified damages.

Last Nov. 3, the initiative banning race and gender preferences in state contracting, hiring and school admissions won passage on a 58 percent statewide vote. The university's president, Dr. Richard L. McCormick announced text day that the university would no longer use race in admissions (See Black Issues, Nov. 26, 1998).

"What the court basically said is that the citizens of the state of Washington did its job for it," says Steven Hemmat, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

A settlement conference was scheduled before another judge to consider settling the case without a trial, which was set to begin Feb. 22.

Legal experts say the ruling practically eliminates any chance that the case could affect the national legal battle over affirmative action.

"I don't think this judge is inclined to declare Bakke [the 1978 Supreme Court decision that allowed racial considerations for college admissions] to no longer be good law," Shaw says. "If he were inclined to do that, he could [have allowed the class-action status] to remain. …

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