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Washington State's Affirmative Action Ban Now 16 Years Old


The US Supreme Court's decision upholding Michigan's ban on affirmative action criteria in college admissions is unlikely to set off ripples in Washington State's legal and social fabric. Washington has had a similar ban in place since 1998.

Initiative 200, spearheaded by Washington's primary initiative instigator, Tim Eyman, was passed by a 58 percent majority of the state's voters. It says "the state shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin. The measure went to voters after the legislature punted the issue."

After a brief drop in both black and Hispanic enrollment at the University of Washington and Washington State University following approval of the measure, minority enrollment numbers stabilized from the year 2000 on. But both numbers are still low. At UW, for example, only about 3 percent of entering freshmen are black, although 6 percent of the state's college-aged residents are black. Hispanic enrollment has been climbing slowly since the initiative was approved. Last year it was about 7 percent.

WSU has about the same black enrollment numbers, but Hispanic enrollment at about 10 percent is slightly higher than at U-Dub.The majority justices in the high court case stressed that they were not ruling on how the issue of racial preferences should be resolved. Rather it is about who may resolve it. The majority said that courts may not set aside laws that give the policy determination to voters.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued an impassioned dissent. She agreed the Constitution does not protect racial minorities from political defeat. But, as she put it, neither does it give the majority free rein to erect selective barriers against racial minorities.