FOLLOWING the release in 1980 of a groundbreaking study titled, "Legal Implications of Racially Disproportionate Incarceration Rates," Washington state officials asked themselves a hard question about why the state led the nation in the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans. Shortly afterward, the Legislature commissioned its own study of the effect of race in its criminal-justice system.
The answers were inconclusive, but the disparities were glaring. For the past three decades, citizens in Washington have continued to wrestle with the racial disparities in the state's criminal-justice system.
Next month, 11 judges of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in a case that challenges Washington's disproportionate denial of voting rights to racial minorities with felony convictions under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. The case sheds new light on the 1980 study and an opportunity to answer the question it raises.