After state Supreme Court says laws should be enforced differently based on race, Wilson calls for legislation reaffirming equal protection of the law to all citizens
OLYMPIA – A new court ruling that gives official sanction to racial discrimination is one of the Washington Supreme Court’s most reprehensible rulings of recent years, says Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview.
Wilson, ranking Republican on the Senate State Government and Elections Committee, says he will introduce legislation next year to remind the court that it must follow the U.S. Constitution. The legislation would restate the principle embodied in the 14th Amendment, that every individual citizen deserves equal protection of law regardless of race, religion, gender or other characteristics.
“We shouldn’t have to do this,” Wilson said. “The Legislature needs to make a strong statement – we in Washington do not believe in racial discrimination, period. And we in this state also believe our courts need to follow the Constitution.”
In its ruling Thursday in Washington v. Sum, the Washington Supreme Court declared that laws should be enforced differently based on a subject’s race. The case concerned a motorist who was sleeping in his car in Tacoma when police knocked on his window and asked him to identify himself. The motorist gave a false name and then attempted to flee the scene in his car. He was convicted of making false statements, attempting to elude police, and possession of an illegal handgun found in his car.
The court threw out the false-statement conviction, observing that the man was a person of color, declaring that he had reason to fear police and that the race factor turned an otherwise-permissible police contact into a “warrantless seizure.” The ruling says courts “must consider the race and ethnicity of the allegedly seized person” in determining whether a subject is properly detained.
“This is simply mind-boggling,” Wilson said. “Let’s leave aside the fact that this ruling is unworkable, because it doesn’t tell police when they are supposed to enforce the law and when they are supposed to look the other way.
“What concerns me more is the idea that this ruling says the law should be applied unequally based on race. If I were to be detained at a legal traffic stop, and the cops asked for my ID, and I gave a false name and attempted to flee, then of course I would expect to go to jail. I would expect the police to search my car and charge me with all the contraband they could find. That’s the law. No one is exempted on the basis of skin color.
“The U.S. Constitution declares that every individual is subject to the same laws as everyone else. It doesn’t extend rights to ‘groups.’ The people of Washington have voted twice now for laws preventing the state from discriminating by race. Unfortunately, there are a rising number of voices on the left who do not believe in equality for every person under the law.
“This is a political debate, not a legal one, and the court has no business acting like a legislature. I hope someone challenges the ruling and takes it to the U.S. Supreme Court – I think it would be overturned in an instant on 14th Amendment grounds. In the meantime, we in the Washington Legislature are often called upon to pass legislation to clarify state law in the wake of a bizarre ruling from our state Supreme Court. Clearly we will need a clarifying bill next year, because police will need to know when and how they are supposed to discriminate by race and when they are not.
“But there is a better way to correct the problems this ruling has created. We should pass a law upholding the U.S. Constitution and declaring that the law applies equally to every single one of us regardless of race. We’d be repeating what the Constitution already says, but I think we can write a state statute in a way that would be very difficult for the court to ignore.”
Wilson said the ruling is still fresh, and he is considering approaches.
Wilson acknowledged that his proposal could face tough sledding. Three years ago, the state Legislature, under Democratic-Party control, voted to overturn the state’s voter-approved anti-discrimination law, with the goal of reinstating racial discrimination in college admissions and state contracting. Chinese-American groups led opposition, because the new law was designed in part to enable discrimination against persons of Asian descent. They collected signatures to force a referendum, and Washington voters in 2019 rejected the new law and reaffirmed the state’s anti-discrimination statute.
Wilson said, “When a significant portion of the Legislature believes racial discrimination is a good thing, we expect the courts to step in and protect the rights of the individual against the demands of the mob. I cannot tell you how dismayed I am that the highest court in this state would embrace a proposition so damaging to the core principles of our republic.”