The United States Supreme Court announced Monday it will not hear a case between the University of Washington Law School and three plaintiffs who believe they were unfairly denied admission due to the university's affirmative-action policy. The refusal effectively ends a dispute between the parties which has drawn on for longer than a decade.
"The legal challenge, we won that back in 1998, we won it again in 2000, we won it again in 2002, we won again in 2004, and we won it again in this matter," W.H. (Joe) Knight, dean of the University of Washington Law School, said. "Our admissions policies have always been appropriate."
Though the Supreme Court offers no explanation on its refusal to hear a case, University of Wisconsin political science professors Donald Downs and Charles Franklin agreed the court's refusal could indicate satisfaction with a lower court's ruling in favor of the University of Washington.
"Unfortunately, it's not clear in these situations," Franklin said. "The court may very well not hear [a case] simply believing the lower courts have done as much as they care to do on it at the time."
Downs added the court may also have bypassed the case in favor of more "contentious issues" on its plate, the desire to wait for what it considers a better case on the same topic, or having agreed with the 9th Circuit Court's decision.
According to Knight, the plaintiffs — Katuria Smith, Angela Rock and Michael Pyle — claim they were denied admission to the school in a discriminatory fashion because there was a favoritism of people of color over them.
"Since numbers aren't the only [factor] in the course of making a decision, the argument loses strength right there," Knight said. "There's no pattern that suggests that the law school has done anything that's incorrect or illegal."
Knight said universities use affirmative action all the time in a number of different categories — military veterans, in-state students and children of alumni, for example — to determine their admissions and expressed concern over the uproar affirmative action as it relates to race sometimes creates.
"This is really getting tired. I'm tired of talking about race," Knight said. "When we admit students whose parents went to the institution, [people] don't find it objectionable; only in the context of race — and that, for me, is very distressing."
Downs said affirmative action as it relates to lowering admissions standards for children of alumni is wrong and added the practice sacrifices a university's principles.
"Children of alumni haven't done anything to deserve [admission]. They were just born that way," Downs said. "At least with the race issue, you're attempting to make up for past discrimination."
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the affirmative-action policy of the University of Michigan's law school in 2003, but ruled against UM's undergraduate policy, which used a structured point system to assign a measurable value to a student's minority status.
Knight said he could offer no explanation for why the University of Washington Law School — as opposed to any other in the country — had to fight so many legal battles.
"We're not different," Knight said. "We just happened to get singled out and be sued, and now the suit's over."