Race in Seattle

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A federal appellate court has struck down a system for assigning students to public high schools in Seattle that uses race and ethnicity as a factor. Here are key dates leading up to the July 27 decision:

  • November 1996: The Seattle school board adopts an "open choice" high-school-admission policy that features a "racial tiebreaker" to promote integration.
  • November 1998: State voters pass Initiative 200, banning discrimination or preferential treatment on the basis of race or ethnicity in public jobs, education, and contracting.
  • July 2000: A Seattle parents’ group files a federal lawsuit saying the racial tiebreaker violates I-200, the U.S. Constitution, and the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • April 2001: A U.S. District Court judge upholds the assignment policy under both the state and federal constitutions, saying that I-200 does not make the policy illegal.
  • April 2002: A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit appeals court unanimously overturns the lower court’s ruling, holding that the policy does run afoul of I-200.
  • June 2002: After the district requests a rehearing, the three-judge panel withdraws its ruling and asks the state supreme court to determine if the policy violates I-200.
  • June 23, 2003: The U.S. Supreme Court issues split opinions in a high-profile pair of cases involving the use of race in student admissions to the University of Michigan.
  • June 26, 2003: The state supreme court decides 8-1 that the Seattle policy does not violate I-200, because the plan treats all racial and ethnic groups similarly.
  • July 27, 2004: In a 2-1 ruling, the three-judge federal panel strikes down the Seattle policy on the grounds that it falls short of standards laid out in the Michigan decisions.

SOURCE: Federal and state court records

Vol. 23, Issue 44, Page 18

Published in Print: August 11, 2004, as Race in Seattle
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