2022 WASHINGTON STATE SUPREME COURT IS STEPPING UP TO RECOGNIZE RACISM IN THE COURTHOUSE

In 2020, in an open letter to judges and lawyers, our Supreme Court faced racism in the court and asked us to do better.

We must recognize that systemic racial injustice against black Americans is not an omnipresent specter that will inevitably persist. It is the collective product of each of our individual actions—every action, every day. It is only by carefully reflecting on our actions, taking individual responsibility for them, and constantly striving for better that we can address the shameful legacy we inherit. We call on every member of our legal community to reflect on this moment and ask ourselves how we may work together to eradicate racism.

The Court pointed a finger at attorneys and judges.

 The legal community must recognize that we all bear responsibility for this on-going injustice, and that we are capable of taking steps to address it, if only we have the courage and the will. The injustice still plaguing our country has its roots in the individual and collective actions of many, and it cannot be addressed without the individual and collective actions of us all.

As judges, we must recognize the role we have played in devaluing black lives.

In knowing that unrelenting racism exists today the Supreme Court is asking the judges and attorneys everywhere to do better.

In a straight line from this letter, the Supreme Court recently recognized in criminal cases addressing the issue of whether a police encounter with a person of color was in fact a seizure.  The Court noted:

an objective observer is aware that implicit, institutional, and unconscious biases, in addition to purposeful discrimination, have resulted in disproportionate police contacts, investigative seizures, and uses of force against Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) in Washington.

State v. Sum, No. 99730-6, 2022 WL 2071560, at *1 (Wash. June 9, 2022).

The Court faced head-on the reality of mistreatment in the courts. “Historically, many of this court’s opinions concerning the civil rights and lived experiences of BIPOC have been deplorable.” Id. at *5.

The Court recognized that race and ethnicity are always relevant in addressing seizure issues: “we hold that an allegedly seized person’s race and ethnicity are relevant to the question of whether they were seized by law enforcement for purposes of article I, section 7.”  Id.

The evolution of the judicial mind, must continue along that straight line and allow for introspection as to whether this forum will overcome that long history of discrimination in the courts or fail again.  Judges and attorneys must recognize that in every judicial decision race discrimination and the potential for unfair treatment of a Black and other litigant of color exists in every courthouse and affirm that this evil specter will not be allowed in this judicial process.

Click here to see State Supreme Court open letter

Click here to see State v. Sum

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