Supreme Court Rejects Use of Racial Tiebreaker, 5-4

The Supreme Court today struck down both Louisville, Kentucky and Seattle's use of race in their school assignment plans (as presented to the Court). The vote was 5-4 down the conservative versus liberal lines with Justice Kennedy being the swing vote. Here's the article from the Times.

Justice Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion:

"Yet Justice Anthony Kennedy would not go as far as the other four conservative justices, saying in a concurring opinion that race may be a component of school district plans designed to achieve diversity. To the extent that Roberts' opinion can be interpreted to foreclose the use of race in any circumstance, Kennedy said, "I disagree with that reasoning." He agreed with Roberts that the plans in Louisville and Seattle violated constitutional guarantees of equal protection."

Justice Kennedy leaves the door open to carefully crafting an enrollment policy that uses race as a factor but, of course, the devil is in the details. Would the district take another shot at it? Between the lean to neighborhood schools and the loss of this case, I doubt it.

So that leaves the district largely where they have been in the past 6 years (temporarily) but where they are now permanently, not being able to use the racial tiebreaker as it was crafted. They likely could use the option of economic hardship as a tiebreaker. That, I believe, would likely stand up to public and court scrutiny.

Or the district could do nothing. Doing nothing will surely segregate our schools. This isn't the district's fault. This city has a sad past of redlining real estate and that legacy can't be undone, not at today's housing prices and with now-established neighborhoods. The south end and alternative schools would likely be the most diverse schools in the district. The district has indicated in the past that they wanted to make some alternatives like TOPS and AAA (maybe all of them except Summit) regional schools which would further curb diversity.

All of this is now in play with the on-going work on the enrollment plan. I recall a couple of years ago Roosevelt students going to a couple of Board meetings protesting the change from yellow bus service to Metro (thus meaning fewer south end kids would make the trip north). If there was an economic tie-breaker, students from all over the city might be able to make the trip (in the future) to Roosevelt and Franklin as they will be right by the light-rail stations.

Does diversity matter? It used to be a strong issue for the Board to fight for. It will be interesting to ask SB candidates what they would propose and how important they feel creating diversity in our schools is.

It also will be interesting to see what Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's take on this is. She, of course, does not create policy but she certainly could give her input. FYI, her first Board meeting is July 11th.


Anonymous said…
This is very interesting, and I will be curious to see what the new student assignment plan looks like, and if it addresses this issue. With the current student assignment plan "choice", I didnt think the racial tie breaker was appropriate (and we are a black family so would have benefited) as all families have access to all schools. I know it's not perfect, and that the popular schools are full, and the very very poor can't afford to drive, etc. etc., but in my opinion it was an euitable plan. Note I didn't say all schools were equitable, I just feel that the assignment plan was equitable.
Anonymous said…
Yes diversity matters; without it the powerless will be underserved.
Anonymous said…
The P-I has a story on this too:
Anonymous said…
since the district lost, do they still have to pay the attorney fees for the Magnolia parents who originally sued?

All of this talk about making the schools equitable will be meaningless if the district has to cut a check for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Jet City mom said…
I think weve already done that.
Jet City mom said…
Im sorry- but why doesn't SPS have an internal auditor?

why so much time and effort spent on things that " make us look like we are fighting for social justice", when we make such stupid blunders?
Anonymous said…
The alternatives are, for the most part, less diverse ("more white") than the district as a whole, so I'm not sure I agree that this will make them any more diverse.

Unless those schools begin to actively recruit families that will make them more diverse.

My impression is that most are interested in doing what they've been doing -- business as usual -- in this regard.
Anonymous said…
Couldn't agree more with this decision. Hallelujah.

If we're going to work on school diversity and achievement, let's work on programmatic issues and strong staff leadership at each school.

And how about an economic tiebreaker instead of a racial one.
Jet City mom said…
what sort of diversity is going to make the biggest difference in student achievement?

Is academic performance our priority for students?
If not, what is?
Should we look at what we say or what we do?
( Charlie, put your hand down.)

After the influence of the family, researcher James Coleman concluded 40 years ago, the single most important factor determining student achievement is the socioeconomic status of the school a child attends. In a large-scale government-sponsored study, Coleman found that all children do better in middle-class schools—whatever the schools’ racial makeup.
Johnny Calcagno said…
classof75 at 11:11am -

That's exactly why an assingnment that is predominantly neighborhood school oriented - no matter how well-intentioned - will leave many children with lower achievement.

School such as TOPS come under fire for a variety of reasons, but one of the things that they do well (because of the lottery assignment) is create an extraordinarily diverse student body without resorting to forced assignment.
Anonymous said…
TOPS isn't exactly the poster child for your point, Johnny. It isn't extraordinarily diverse, especially when you take out the special education classes that aren't part of TOPS overall curriculum. That's one of the reasons TOPS gets flak.
Anonymous said…
Continuing the thought:
In fact, if one references this data from the district:
TOPS is actually in the lower half of the district as far as FRL-qualified kids, and that, again, is with the data-swaying use of those special ed rooms. TOPS is a very nice school, but it isn't as diverse as some of the more persistent voices there would make it out to be.
Anonymous said…
Anonymous who offered a hallejuah ought to take a moment to read Justice Kennedy's concurrence with the majority. He wrote it because he didn't agree with Chief Justice Roberts opinion that the Constitution does allow schools to ignore the challenges of segregated school.
When you say hallejuah, you're saying yes, let's work on academics and ignore that big old elephant in the room called racist. Federal studies, including those ordered by the Bush admin., continue to find examples of persistent racism in housing, employment and other factors that play into the school a child attends.
Yet, you anonymous want to don your rose-colored glasses and pretend those things away. As long as we do that, academics cannot be addressed.
Anonymous said…
Anonymous said...
When you say hallejuah, you're saying yes, let's work on academics and ignore that big old elephant in the room called racist.

Yes, that's exactly it. Let's get past every little thing coming down to race and get on with improving, systematically, the academic programs.
Anonymous said…
Johnny Calcagno said...
School such as TOPS come under fire for a variety of reasons, but one of the things that they do well (because of the lottery assignment) is create an extraordinarily diverse student body without resorting to forced assignment.

This is baloney in my book. They'd be more diverse if they went by an economic tiebreaker, which of course, many of the parents there wouldn't want to do because they might no longer be included.

In addition, it is mystifying to me why a lottery system should be held up as one of the best parts of that school. It doesn't even have an all-city lottery. Only some clusters are included, and those clusters include some of the most socio-economic well-off areas.

Agreed with the other writer, though, it is a very good K-8 school.
Anonymous said…
I agree with the above poster. If we keep making everything about race, that is racist. Let's get past the race barrier, and focus on achievement of all kids. Let's stop focusing on the color of ones skin, and focus on schools performance. Those schools that do not do well, and there are many in the white north end to, should be brought up to standard, not becuase children attending them are minority, but because they must be accountable.
Johnny Calcagno said…
As of October 2006, TOPS has 22% FRL versus 38% for the District; It has 30 Special Ed students out of a total of 524. It may not be extraordinarily diverse, but I think it can be considered a useful model for achieving economic and racial diversity without forcing families to bus when they don't want to. That was my point.

We need solutions right now, and a system that provides equal opportunities to attend successful programs is a workable solution until we figure out a way to actually create great schools in every neighborhood...
Anonymous said…
Johnny Calcagno said...
We need solutions right now, and a system that provides equal opportunities to attend successful programs is a workable solution until we figure out a way to actually create great schools in every neighborhood...

TOPS doesn't provide equal opportunities. It provides *some* opportunity to *some* clusters. And not a diverse opportunity at that.

I remain skeptical about TOPS as a model solution. The louder voices at the school worked hard and long to avoid access to the Eastlakians, who are by and large an economically diverse community (majority renters not homeowners). They now take a few Eastlake kindergarteners, but I watched as it took years of prodding.
Anonymous said…
I just looked at that FRL map (correct URL is actually
and TOPS isn't as FRL-diverse as almost half of the supposedly "wealthy" NEIGHBORHOOD schools of the north and central areas. If it's trying to prove its mission on that note, it needs a new mission.
Roy Smith said…
Would anybody care to put forth an opinion on what a minimally acceptable level of diversity for a school in SPS might be, and what measurement we should use for diversity?
Jet City mom said…
Tops is 19% FRL- which seems low for the district- 45% white which I think it about the same overall as district.

Other K-8 schools include Pinehurst- 63% white- 36 % FRL
( Im using the Seattle times school guide which I think came out last fall)
Catherine Blaine- 18% FRL, 72% white
Madrona 70% FRL, 15% white
Salmon Bay 7% FRL, 79% white
AAA 84% FRL, 1 % white
Pathfinder 34 % FRL 57% white

42.2% FRL is district average- a school that approached that within 10 % points either way, according to my fuzzy math, I would consider diverse

Schools that serve elementary students
Northgate has 81% FRL
Broadview Thompson 42% FRL
Greenwood 48% FRL
Olympic Hills 62% FRL
Summit 42% FRL
Viewlands in the north end had 52% FRL students ( now closed of course)

So we have schools with a huge percentage of FRL students, but still schools like
Bryant with 9% FRL
( dare I say it)
Lowell with 7% FRL
View Ridge with 3% FRL
& Mcgilvra with 9% FRL

Of high schools- the highest number of FRL students ( which can not be representative in high school as some don't turn in their forms), are Cleveland with 61% and Rainer Beach with 60%

( lowest are Garfield- 21%, Ballard- 22%,Roosevelt-21%,& Hale with 16%)
purty intresting.
Anonymous said…
At Elementary level, I still think it is essential to go by location due to the amount of parental involvement involved. If we want schools to be more economically diverse, the city should put lower income housing in the higher income areas.

At the middle school and high school area, the economic tie breaker makes more sense, but not at the expense of predictablity - parents shouldn't have to spend hours talking to the enrollment office and calculating their odds on getting into their neighborhood school.
Roy Smith said…
Anecdotally, and second-hand, I have heard that Northgate Elementary is very popular among non-whites, particularly hispanics, because it 1) has a strong English-Language Learner program and/or 2) hispanics in particular like sending their children to a school with lots of other hispanic children. This may account for the 81% FRL there.

If anybody has direct experience with that school, please feel free to add to or correct my comments.

If this is the case, however, what, if anything, should be done to try and correct the imbalance?
North East Mama said…
Hi Roy Smith. I do not have any experience with that school, other than using the field for Little League. I have heard the same things you have. My question to anyone is: is there anything wrong with reason 1 or 2 that Roy states? They both seem valid to me.
Johnny Calcagno said…
I'm reluctant to quibble too much about numbers, but let me just say that the Seattle Times guide FRL and demographic breakdowns don't agree with official District data, possibly because they are out of date. This isn't the first time I've found discrepancies.

Current District numbers are here.
Anonymous said…
So what is everyone here suggestin, exactly? I don't really get it? Roy, you seem to think there is something wrong with Northgate having a high number of hispanic students, even though your own reasoning suggests, that they choose to be there based the ESL program, and that they like to go to school with other hispanic families.

What is wrong with that??

How would you like to see school assignment happen? Everyone show their checkbook balance, and go to the appropriate schools?

I think what an earlier poster said made more sense than all of this nonsense. If you want diverse schools you have to have diverse neighborhoods. The city should be buildin low income housing in the affluent neighborhoods. To think that a school district is going to right the ethnic and socio economic diversity of this city, is giving them a whole lot of credit.
Anonymous said…
So there is a school in North Seattle that is not affluent, and not predominantly white, and we still aren't happy. We have tried so hard and argued so adamantly about giving minority kids a chance to come North to the "good" schools, and then when they are here, you analize the heck out of it, to find out what's wrong, and why it happened????
Jet City mom said…
I'm reluctant to quibble too much about numbers, but let me just say that the Seattle Times guide FRL and demographic breakdowns don't agree with official District data, possibly because they are out of date. This isn't the first time I've found discrepancies.

okee doke
SPS now has 38% FRL district average
Lowell is 5% FRL with 69% white ( district is 42%)
Garfield is 44% white, 23% FRL
TOPS is 46% white,22% FRL

it isn't differing that much from the Seattle times info so far & it is much clearer for me to be able to read the Times info, than have to down load a PDF file for each Seattle schools-
but then I have dial up- and a small hard drive-
I still like hard copies :)
Roy Smith said…
I never said that I saw anything wrong with the racial or the economic balance at Northgate Elementary, if it is for the reasons that I have heard. I actually think it is a very good thing for SPS to have at least one school that apparently is popular with and serves a minority community well that isn't being overrun by wealthy families maneuvering for access to their program.

Consider my question to be asked from the position of devil's advocate.

Question: What should be done about the racial and economic imbalances at Northgate Elementary compared to other local elementary schools or the North Seattle region in general?

My Answer: Absolutely nothing.

Once again, trying to compare schools or the equitable access to schools based purely on numbers, be they racial distribution, test scores, FRL, or any other quantitative measure you can think of is going to obscure truths that are hard or impossible to express in quantifiable terms yet are very important to the discussion.
Don't forget; this was about high school and it's a very different animal. Kids at that age have a high awareness (for all their self-absorption) about issues of class, race and social justice. They do notice what their class makeup looks like. They do realize it changes the feel of their school. And, the district programming makes it so that people want to travel for specific programming.

If you want to make it about pure academics and assign high schools by neighborhood, then we have to have a good (not adequate) number of AP/Honors classes at EVERY high school, no matter the cost or how few kids access them. The district has now created an IB program to the north and south. Done. As I mentioned in a previous post, we need to try to help develop popular programs such as music and drama at many more schools so that you don't have dogfights for Roosevelt and Garfield. Or have a lottery or open audition plan for access to speciality programs that the district can't/doesn't want to re-create. Or, as is suggested in one part of the enrollment plan, a certain number of seats at popular high schools are set-aside for non-area students.

I'll feel sad if the high schools segregate. Maybe, if you looked at the numbers, they already are. If I had to guess which high school is the most diverse, I'd guess Cleveland or Garfield. Garfield would stay that way if the APP students remain there and Cleveland likely because of its area demographics.

Yes, the district will have to pay lawyers' fees. I personally thought they should have dropped the lawsuit a long time ago and always wondered why it continued given the district stopped using it anyway.
Vanessa said…
There are several possible plans for student assignment which remain open under this ruling.

The first, and most likely, is for school district to use socioeconomic criteria to assign students to school, either by categorizing students as eligible/not eligible for free and reduced lunch programs, or by breaking the district into neighborhoods which are categorized by the average income levels. These types of plans are already in place in many cities -- San Francisco, Wake County (Raleigh), Cambridge. While those types of plans are not as effective as racial considerations in increasing diversity, they can help.

The second possibility left open by Justice Kennedy's opinion (which, since he was the fifth vote in the majority and only agreed with part of the reasoning, is the controlling opinion) appears to be that schools can consider race, just not use race to determine how INDIVIDUAL students are assigned to schools. That leaves open the possibility that, in some limited cases, school districts can consider the racial makeups of neighborhoods when assigning students to schools.

See this blog for tons of great analysis on the ruling.
Anonymous said…

You write "Yes, the district will have to pay lawyers' fees. I personally thought they should have dropped the lawsuit a long time ago and always wondered why it continued given the district stopped using it anyway."

Up until today, the District was the prevailing party. There is no reason to "drop" a case when you are the prevailing party, particularly when up until Justice O'Connor retired, there was no reason to think that the Supreme Court would even take the case. (The Court denied to hear a similar case from Massachuettes last term before her retirement).

It is my understanding that the law firm of Davis Wright Tremain has always treated this as a pro bono case, meaning that the parents group has paid no fees. I would hope that a firm as large and profitable as Davis (its client include the Seattle Times) would not now try to recover fees that they never would have charged if the case went the other way, to the detriment of the students of Seattle. Even if they do, they have to go back to the trial court who ruled against them in the first place to ask for fees anyway. The court will take into consideration that the Parents did not get the relief they wanted, which was an injunction preventing the District from ever using race. That did not happen today.

Instead, the Court upheld that diversity is a compelling government interest (which the Parents also asked be overturned), and Justice Kennedy, whose opinion carries the day, said that school districts can use race concious measure to achieve diversity, even being able to explictly assign individual students to school based upon race alone in some cases.

At the end of the day, even though the specific plan was stuck down, I think that the District won on all of the key issues.
Charlie Mas said…
Any analysis of the distribution of the concentration of poverty in Seattle's neighborhood elementary schools will reveal it to be bi-modal.

In other words, if you count the schools with 0-10% FRL and with 11-20% FRL and 21-30% FRL and so on, you will see that the distribution is not a normal distribution, shaped like a bell curve with the greatest number of schools at the mean and fewer and fewer as you get away from the mean. Instead, the curve is shaped like the Golden Gate bridge with a spike at one end, a spike at the other end, and a saddle in the middle. We have a lot of schools with very few FRL students, a lot of schools with a high concentration of FRL students, and not many in between.

If you were to say that a school would have to be within 10% of the mean for FRL enrollment to be diverse, then only a very small number of our neighborhood elementary schools would qualify.
Anonymous said…
FRL is not going to be the battle groung, drawing the boudaries will be.
Anonymous said…
Vanessa is right Justice Kennedy's opinion is the controlling opinion. But, he went father than saving that race-neautral means like socio-econimic status could be considered. He wrote that "race-consious" means could be used, and that those would not even need to pass strict scrunitiy (where the SSD lost this particular case on), and that in some instances, school could use race to determine how INDIVIDUAL students are assigned to schools, but that the fact of this case did not suppot it.

I wish Ms. Brose was posting on this topic, because I would be interested in how she feels about having won the battle over the tie-breaker as it was used, but loosing the war in that the PICS group wanted the Court to rule that race and race of an individual student in particular could never be use and they certainly did not get that.
Anonymous said…
We are pleased that the racial tie-breaker will not be used anymore.

We look forward to the Seattle School District putting all its time, money and effort into helping the struggling schools.

Every student deserves access to a good neighborhood school.

Kathleen Brose
Parents Involved in Community Schools
Anonymous said…
Ms. Brose-

Your attorney, in the profile today said that he took the case pro bono. However, the Times now reports that he said he is going to seek over a million dollars in fees. How do you feel about a law firm as big as Davis profiting off of this case, rather than putting that same million dollars into schools? You write that you look forward to the School District putting that money into struggling schools, and that you want all students to have access to a good school. Can you persuade your attorney that making his law firm money off of this case, when he professed that it was a pro bono matter is not the right thing to do? It is really shameful for him to profess that this is pro bono then to try to go after the money that I think you would agree is better spent on improving all schools.
Anonymous said…
Joanie: Given the fact that you are concerned about the disposition of any attorneys' fees incurred in the case, how do you feel about the no doubt large sums expended by the District for its attorneys' fees in the case? (By the way, the District used non-District, outside attorneys, not its own in-house attorneys.) If anything, the District's payment of such fees is much more alarming (and "shameful", to use your word) given the fact that (1) the District lost the case (despite its attempt to "spin" its loss as a victory for "diversity"), and (2) the District used taxpayers' money (i.e., your money and my money, if you are a Seattle resident) to pursue a losing cause. Perhaps your question is better directed to the District's administrators and to its Board: why did you waste hundreds of thousands of dollars defending a plan that has been deemed discriminatory? (Funds that could have been used to "improve" (again, to use your word) failing schools?) I applaud Ms. Brose and her attorney for doing the right thing, and for achieving a result that will benefit not just Seattle, but the entire nation. (O.K., now everyone can start calling me a "racist.")
Anonymous said…
The District did not file the suit. Ms. Brose and her group did. The District defended itself, and won at every level until yesterday. There is no shame in that.

More importantly, they never publically professed, as Mr. Korrell did this morning, that it was at no cost (i.e. pro bono). The District was upfront that they spent 400,000 over six years. It appears that Mr. Korrell was happy to do this case pro bono, and to brag about it as pro bono up until today.

My point is Mr. Korrell needs to be honest, this is either a pro bono case or a way for his firm to profit. And Ms. Brose ethier needs to stand behind her committment to the idea of putting the money in the schools, or acknowledge that that money is going to a law firm instead. I frankly wonder if this her lawyer trying to profit without her knowing about it.
Anonymous said…
Joanie: I don't want to belabor this issue, but I do want the people who read this blog to have the correct facts. To wit: you are incorrect in stating that, until the Supreme Court's decision, the District "won at every level." In fact, a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the District both in 2002 and 2004. (And, yes, the Ninth Circuit reversed itself in an en banc ruling issued in 2005.) Thus, the District did not "win at every level." (For the convoluted history of the case, please see pages 5 through 7 of the Supreme Court opinion.)
However, beyond the legal history of the case, I find it interesting that you say that the District was just "defending itself" in a suit started by "Ms. Brose and her group." Yes, you are correct: the District tried unsuccessfully to defend what has now been determined by the Supreme Court to be a constitutionally-impermissible discriminatory policy. To state it clearly: the Seattle School District's plan violated the United States Constitution. I respectfully suggest that, instead of attempting to shift the focus to attorneys' fees, you focus on the real problem: according to the Supreme Court (whether you like it or not), the Seattle School District discriminated against its own students in violation of the United States Constitution. That, to provide a civics refresher, is now the law of the land. (Whether [il]liberals and [un]progressives like it or not.) (And however they try to obfuscate the truth by raising red herrings.) From my point of view, Ms. Brose (whom I have never met nor spoken with) has done more than enough to protect our Constitutional rights, and does not need to concern herself with what her attorney does or does not do about his fees. Her family has been the victim of illegal discrimination. Please give some thought to that before you presume to give her directions as to how to exercise her judgment with respect to this non-issue.
Anonymous said…

I wish you would identify yourself, even if only by some sort of reference. You miss that the Ninth Circuit withdrew its opinion, and sent the case to the Washington Supreme Court, were the District also prevailed. That to me is winning at every turn.

With respect to discrimination, you are clearly failing to recognize that the Roberts opinion was the majority only in part. No one ruled that Ms. Brose was discriminated against (in fact, I found it interesting that even Roberts did not use her child, he used the example of Jill Kurfirst's child), at the end of the day, the controlling opinion was that diversity is still a compelling government interest, and in some cases (but not this) students still can be individually assigned to schools based on race alone.

Dispite your rhentoric, I think I have asked a legitimate question, which is does Ms. Brose what the money to go to improving all schools as she blogged, or does she want her law firm to profit off of a case that the for years claimed was "pro bono?"

I don't care about what you think regarding the opinion, what I want to know is from Ms. Brose, does she agree with her attorney's decision to have a case be pro bono up until there is a chance to profit, and is she okay with that profit coming at the expense of improving all schools, which she said she wants.

I am still hopeful that Ms. Brose (who has the courage to actually indentify herself) will answer what is a real question for those of us whose children attend the very "struggling" schools that she says she wants the District to spend "all" of its money and time helping.
Jet City mom said…
So after the attorney for the parents answers the question Re: should he have to donate his time and earnings to the district,Id like to hear the explanation from the district regarding their decision to spend time and money fighting for the ability to assign students to schools outside their neighborhoods over students who live in those neighborhoods- if it increases racial diversity in the school, rather than take that money and put it into the school of the neighborhood the student was trying to get "out" of.

A timeline of the racial-tiebreaker case

July 2000: Parents Involved in Community Schools sue Seattle Public Schools over the use of a racial tiebreaker to assign some students to high schools.

April 2001: U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein of Seattle upholds the tiebreaker, saying it counteracts the city's segregated neighborhoods and does not violate voter-approved Initiative 200, which eliminated the use of race for college admissions, public employment and contracting.

April 2002: A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel rules 3-0 that the tiebreaker violates the state's I-200. Ballard High Principal David Engle resigns to protest the decision, saying it will resegregate his school.

June 2002: The federal appeals court withdraws its earlier ruling and says the Washington State Supreme Court should answer the I-200 question. Although the federal court's injunction against the tiebreaker is lifted, the school district decides to suspend its use until legal questions are resolved.

June 2003: The state Supreme Court, in an 8-1 ruling, says assigning students on the basis of race does not violate I-200's prohibition on racial preference, because it affects students of all races in a similar manner. The constitutional question goes back to the federal appeals court.

July 2004: A 9th Circuit panel again rejects the tiebreaker, this time in a 2-1 decision, saying it violates constitutional guarantees of equal protection.

October 2005: The full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds the tiebreaker after an appeal by the district.

June 2006: The U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear the Seattle case.

December 2006: The U.S. Supreme Court hears Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District, along with a similar case involving the Louisville, Ky., school system.

Thursday: In a 5-4 ruling, the court strikes down both districts' integration plans.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times
Anonymous said…
Dear Joanie:

First of all, I am not a lawyer.

Attorneys take on cases, pro bono, knowing that if they win, they can collect their fees and costs at the end of the lawsuit. If they lose, they don't get anything.
They take the risk.
The District knew this when we started the lawsuit. PICS, the non-profit organization, asked for no money whatsoever if we won. The PICS officers volunteered all their time and services over 7 years. We ony wanted the District to stop using the racial tiebreaker permanently.

I'm not in the insurance business either, but I imagine that the District has an insurance policy for lawsuits, just like we have car and home insurance. Maybe their rates will go up now.

Have you thought about the costs that parents have incurred during 25 years of forced busing in the Seattle School District? Private school costs and moving costs are in the millions. Can you put a price tag on the emotional costs of the students and their parents? How about all the lost hours that kids spent on buses, or the amount of polution those buses put in our air. These parents are not asking for reimbursement for their costs over the years, even though their children's civil rights were violated.

Here are some answers to your questions.
There were 2 plaintiffs named in the briefs who lived closer to Ballard than my family. They were affected by the racial tiebreaker only. My family was affected by both the racial and distance tiebreakers. However, if my daughter had been labeled non-white, she would have been assigned to Ballard, her first choice high school, instead of her 4th choice school. I was elected as the President of PICS and became their spokesperson, even though my daughter is not a named plaintiff in the briefs. Never-the-less, my daughter was discriminated against.

We did not go into this lawsuit lightly. We begged the school district to drop the use of the racial tiebreaker. We went through mediation with Judge Dwyer. The majority of the existing school board, in June of 2000, said no to our pleas, so we sued.

We teach our children that there are repercussions to their actions.

Think of all the private tutoring hours the District could have purchased with all the money they spent on the lawsuit. Those hours could have helped thousands of students to pass the WASL's.


Kathleen Brose
Parents Involved in Community Schools
Anonymous said…
I am not a lawyer either but here is the definition of pro bono: "a Latin term meaning "for the good"; used to describe a lawyers services that are provided free of charge"

I don't see how something can both be pro bono and for profit.

I am sorry, you can't have it both ways: pro bono or for profit. If the law firm wants to make a profit off of this case, that is thier right, but they should not at the same time keep saying that it was pro bono. And you in turn have to either agree that money should be put into the struggling schools (or speny on tutors, or other things that benifit kids) or stop saying that and acknowledge that a lot of money will go to a large firm that was happy to do the work free of charge the whole way until they saw a chance to profit.
Anonymous said…
SPS has no insurance coverage from claims up to a million dollars. So if the law firm wants a million or more, at least a million will come from the district, not an insurance company.
Anonymous said…
Kathleen do you mean pro-bono or on contingency. We used a lawer once for a personal injury case and they took in "on contingency". Which meant we pay nothing, unless we win. They felt the case strong enough to take it on. If they had lost, they would have been paid 0. We won and paid 40% of our winnings.

That is contingency, not pro-bono as far as I know.
Anonymous said…
Several cites for those that want more information:

Davis Wright Tremaine's, a multi-national law firm started in 1908, Managing Partner is David Baca of Portland:

and his email address is:

Davis Wright's media contact:

Media Contact: Barrie K. Handy, Firmwide Communications Manager

The Davis Wright Diversity Report makes for interesting reading in contrast to the WA Legal Foundation's politics:

From Thompson-West definition of Pro Bono:

Law Encyclopedia

Home > Library > Legal > Law Encyclopedia This entry contains information applicable to United States law only.
Pro Bono

Short for pro bono publico [Latin, For the public good ]. The designation given to the free legal work done by an attorney for indigent clients and religious, charitable, and other nonprofit entities.

As members of a profession, lawyers are bound by their ethical rules to charge reasonable rates for their services and to serve the public interest by providing free legal service to indigent persons or to religious, charitable, or other nonprofit groups. A lawyer's free legal service to these types of clients is designated as pro bono service.

Lawyers have always donated a portion of their time to pro bono work, but in the United States the demand for legal services from people who cannot afford to hire an attorney has grown since the 1960s. Lawyers previously donated time on an ad hoc basis. The establishment of legal aid organizations to serve indigent persons in the 1960s changed the way attorneys obtained pro bono work. Legal aid attorneys, who were unable to satisfy all the legal needs of poor people, created programs to recruit private attorneys willing to donate some of their time. These programs recruit attorneys and then train them to handle common types of cases.

The American Bar Association (ABA) has become a national leader in the effort to enhance pro bono legal services. The ABA Center for Pro Bono assists ABA members and the legal community in developing and supporting effective pro bono legal services in civil matters as part of the profession's effort to ensure access to legal representation and the justice system. The center helps create, design, and implement pro bono programs. It sponsors an annual conference for bar leaders, pro bono program managers, legal service staff, and others involved in the delivery of pro bono legal services to poor people.

State and local bar associations also assist in the creation and maintenance of pro bono programs. Despite these efforts, the need for legal services outstrips the pro bono services provided. State court systems have explored ways to get more lawyers involved in donating their time and skills. In Minnesota, for example, the Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers state, "A lawyer should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono publico legal services per year" (rule 6.1).

Davis Wright's 2005 Pro Bono Report - truly impressive - - Mr. Korrell is listed as a Pro Bono participant but no mention of this suit.

Davis Wright's Press Release and Mr. Korrell's Email address: Note: words "Pro Bono" are not referenced in this press release. . . . .

June 28, 2007

Davis Wright Tremaine Partner Wins at Supreme Court

Decision Favors Parents in School Discrimination Case

SEATTLE, WASH., JUNE 28, 2007—National law firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLP (DWT) secured another win at the U.S. Supreme Court today as the justices ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in Parents Involved in Community Schools (“Parents”) v. Seattle School District.

Since the initial suit was filed in 2000, a team of DWT attorneys, led by partner Harry Korrell of the firm’s Seattle office, represented Parents through seven years of litigation that included arguments in the federal trial and appellate courts (including three arguments to the Ninth Circuit, one en banc), the Washington State Supreme Court, and in December of last year, the U.S. Supreme Court.

Today’s landmark decision adopted Parents’ argument that the government’s desire for a particular racial balance does not justify race discrimination and that a local school board cannot assign students to public schools based on their race, absent the need to remedy past discrimination by that school board.

“This case was about protecting all children - regardless of skin color - from race discrimination,” said lead attorney Harry Korrell. “The parents are very pleased with the Court’s decision. Despite all the attention this case has received, it has often been overlooked that Seattle’s race preference denied minority children, as well as white children, admission to their chosen schools and that the parent association includes both white and minority families.” According to Korrell, “the Court adopted the Parents’ argument that absent the need to remedy past discrimination, the government should not be allowed to make school admissions decisions about people based on their membership in a racial class. The Supreme Court today affirmed this bedrock principle of our republic and requires school officials to stop defining students by their skin color. School districts around the country should now focus on improving how and what they teach all children.”

In addition to today’s win, DWT's appellate group recently garnered wide acclaim for successfully arguing and winning two landmark Supreme Court cases in the 2003-04 Term. Firm partner Jeff Fisher argued and won in both Crawford v. Washington and Blakely v. Washington. In addition, DWT lawyers have recently represented clients — parties and amici curiae — in numerous matters before the U.S. Supreme Court, including in Deborah Morse, et al. v. Joseph Frederick, 2007 WL 1804317 (2007); John Cunningham v. The State of California, 127 S. Ct. 856 (2007); Salim Ahmed Hamdan v. Donald H. Rumsfeld, et al., 126 S.CT. 2749 (2006); US v. Cuauhtemoc Gonzalez-Lopez, 126 S. Ct. 2557 (2006); Adrian Martell Davis v. Washington, 126 S. Ct. 2266 (2006), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios v. Grokster Ltd., 125 S. Ct. 2764 (2006). Click here for more information on DWT’s appellate practice.

About Davis Wright Tremaine
Davis Wright Tremaine LLP is a national business and litigation law firm with more than 480 attorneys in nine offices: Seattle and Bellevue (Wash.), Portland (Ore.), Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C., Anchorage (Alaska) and Shanghai, China.

For the text of the Court’s decision visit

# # #

Harry Korrell
Partner, Davis Wright Tremaine
(206) 757-8080,

Pro Bono can be written off as a charitable contribution as PICS is apparently a 501(c)(3)

The Tax Group's managers appear to be: and
Anonymous said…
Wow! I wonder if they have taking the tax benifit for all of this time. And to think that Mr. Korrell is still calling it pro bono, though he says that pro bono now means pro bono but we get paid.
Anonymous said…
"Pro Bono????"

Got me curious. On Davis's "Recruiting Page" - where they have ironically have this statement diversity "At DWT, we believe that increasing the diversity of our attorneys and staff is central to DWT's ability to fulfill its commitments to its clients and the community. In short, diversity is critical to DWT's long-term success." - They have the a Pro Bono Report that talks about the PICS case being one of thier pro bono projects (page 8).
Anonymous said…
Joanie: Please, for the sake of accuracy, do not try to "spin" the Supreme Court's opinion as a "win" for the District. If the District "won", then why have the usual [il]liberal suspects been knashing their teeth and wailing for the past 3 days? If the District "won", then why did Justice Breyer file a voluminous dissent? Deal with it: the District discriminated against its own students in violation of the Constitution. (Just as the school districts did in Brown v. Board of Education, by the way.)
I never said that there was a ruling that Ms. Brose was discriminated against. I said that "her family was the victim of illegal discrimination," which is certainly true: her children were illegally denied access to the schools of their choice based upon the color of their skin. (Again, it sure sounds like Brown v. Board of Education doesn't it?)
Finally, for the benefit of accuracy, please do not misstate the Supreme Court's holding: the majority of the Court (which includes Justice Kennedy) held that the District's plan is unconstitutional. Justice Kennedy joined in the result. Please read what Justice Kennedy said in his concurring opinion ("concurring" means that he agrees with the other 4 Justices, by the way): "To make race matter now so that it might not matter later may entrench the very prejudices we seek to overcome. In my view the state-mandated racial classifications at issue, official labels proclaiming the race of all persons in a broad class of citizens - elementary school students in one case, high school students in another - are unconstitutional as the cases now come before us." (Concurring Opinion, pages 1 and 2.) Please stop the Orwellian spin: the District lost!
As to the current obsession in the posts regarding Davis Wright Tremaine's fees, it is a classic example of [il]liberal cognitive dissonance at work: unable and unwilling to accept a reality or truth that conflicts with what they believe to be the "truth," they change the subject. (By the way, I have no connection whatsoever with Davis Wright Tremaine or Ms. Brose.)
Anonymous said…
Wow. A lot of rage aimed at the wrong source. I think that Joanie was asking legitmate questions of Ms. Brose, given her first posting in this thread.

And, as to the fee issue, clearly, other people are asking the same questions because both newpapers in town wrote stories about it today (ironically, the Times is one of Davis's clients).

I happen to agree with Justice Breyer, the decision is one that "the court and the nation will come to regret."

One of the best things about this blog is when people use it for honest discussion of issues. You and I have different view points, but I wish you would do more than type about how you feel about "liberals."

I also think it is "spin" for you to keep saying over and over againt that the District was "illegally discriminating."

Up until Thursday, the Seattle was doing what the Courts and the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights have ordered districts to do for 50 years. The law changed because the composition of the court changed.

"Yesterday, the plans under review were lawful. Today they are not. Yesterday, the citizens of this nation could look for guidance to this court's unanimous pronouncements concerning desegregation. Today, they cannot. Yesterday, school boards had available to them a full range of means to combat segregated schools. Today, they do not."

Jet City mom said…
what should be the priority of a government education body?

Is it to forcefully integrate by race- when families largely determine where they choose to live by economics, by distance to work, community centers & church, recreation & health care, shopping & friends.

I know no one who actually chose where they live because of the school- in the city anyway- because they change so much and so quickly.

I remember when families from Wedgwood fought to get their kids in schools in the south end because of the programs- but the principal leaves- unfortunately which is frequent- the programs disappear.

Or maybe should the priority of a publicly funded city education district, be to educate the kids?


What would have happened- if instead of putting hundreds of thousands of dollars in the pockets of the school district lawyers & those whom they hired, they had put that money into the schools , to pay for supplies, to refurbish libraries, to build sports fields, to hold training sessions for parents on the changing curriculum, to build partnerships with schools and community businesses?

What would have happened if the focus had been on improving the schools that were perceived as "lacking" rather than taking the students out of their neighborhoods?

( How much taxpayer money did the district spend anyway? Its been going on 7 years?)
Anonymous said…
I know no one who actually chose where they live because of the school- in the city anyway- because they change so much and so quickly.

Wow - I know TONS of people who chose their neighborhood based on the schools (and I live in the city).
Jet City mom said…
I know no one who actually chose where they live because of the school- in the city anyway- because they change so much and so quickly.

Wow - I know TONS of people who chose their neighborhood based on the schools (and I live in the city).


Ive been living in the city since 1983- we moved here when my oldest was a toddler.

While we did make the conscious choice to move to the city, away from the burbs where I grew up, we moved to where we could afford to live ( at the time), we didn't review the schools at all- if we had perhaps we would have stayed put.

I realize I have known some people who move a lot, generally for their jobs- although some make the choice to have more continuity to their life rather than continually increasing their income, but I really have never known anyone who moved to Seattle " for the schools" or who moved to a specific neighborhood precisely to gain access to a school.

When my daughter was young- one of the best elementary schools in the city was Whitworth- I didn't know anything about the neighborhood though & we didn't consider moving there.

We did really like Leschi- and I was familiar with the neighborhood ( my great aunts home was up for sale and my mother attended Washington & Garfield), but we couldn't afford it.

( I also wanted a bigger yard- but we quickly found out to have a "bigger yard" in the city, your house has to be smaller- thats why ours is 980 sq ft)

so for the people who use a school as criteria to determine where you live- are you thinking ahead as far as high school?
( hope you didn't move across the street from Lincoln or Queen Anne)
Anonymous said…
Apparently "Contingent Fee" and "Pro Bono" mean the same thing at Davis Wright Tremaine.

Pro bono means "for free", but apparently not for DWT. Apparently, it's the tax payers and the kids who need to pay for DWT's rent on the top how ever many floors of the Century Square Building downtown.
To be fair, perhaps the law firm will be using the money to continue to do pro bono work. However, if, as Ms. Brose states in a PI article that she and her group knew all along the firm was going to ask for the money if they won and so did the law firm, it might have been nice to be public about it. I'm sure the District considered that this might occur. You'll note the District has not said they "lost" - rather that the case was decided against them.

I believe a judge will decide if the outcome of the case will cause the District to have to pay up or the District may be able to make the case that the basic premise of their case - that districts can use race as part of their arsenal to create equity - was won by them and thus, they didn't "lose".

I have to say, as a closet lawyer, I have enjoyed the spirited legal discussion here.
Anonymous said…
As a large law firm lawyer (not DWT, but a firm of similar size), I hate to burst the bubble, but the money will not go to do more pro bono work.

It will be reported as part of Mr. Korrell's contribution to the partnership, and then will be distributed among the partners as income. It will certainly increase the money Mr. Korrell will take home, as it will boost his profit share, which I understand was down after the Republican party stiffed him on fees in Rossi govenor case.

As someone above noted, all large law firms are challenged by the ABA do contribute 3% of the firms time to pro bono matters, and that is true "for free" work, not contigency fee work, which is what DWT is turning this case into. DWT will continue to do pro bono work to meet the ABA challenge regardless of if they make a profit on this case. Pro bono work is supposed to be financed by for profit work, and done for the good of the cause. And, DWT is a very proiftable firm, who is soon to be recieving a large share of the 4 billion dollar Exxon settlement.

I have to agree with the quote from the school district's attorney, there is nothing "for the public good" about recovering fees from the public school system, even though it is perfectly lawful for DWT to try to get those fees.

I would hope that the rest of the firm can convince Mr. Korrell that winning the case itself, and all of the press he got related to it - including a prfoile in the Times - is victory enough, and that the better course of valor is to leave the public's money in the public's school system.
Anonymous said…
Ah, the hieght of hypocrisy:

Davis Wright Tremaine is listed as a sponsor of Seattle School District Alliance for Education and contributed between $5000 and $9999 according to the 2006 Annual Report. So it is apparent that Davis Wright Tremaine believes that as a corporate citizen they should be supporting the Seattle School District. Odd that they now want to take the money back (along with at least another $990,000) to boost the firm's bottom line.

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