Since we are on the subject of Rob McKenna, there is something that has been weighing on me for a while that I’d like to get off my chest.
Last fall, Washington Supreme Court Justice James Johnson and former Justice Richard Sanders caused quite a stir when they denied racial discrimination was a factor in prison population race disparity.
Earlier in the year, during a KZOK radio interview, Attorney General Rob McKenna appeared to be on the same page with Johnson and Sanders when, in response to a direct question about prison race disparity, he answered: “unfortunately, our prison population is disproportionate based on race, but disproportionality isn’t in and of itself an indication of racial discrimination.” That was all he had to say on the matter.
The comment was particularly troubling in light of the context of the interview. The subject was Farrakhan v. Gregoire, a case in which the 9th Circuit Appeals Court ruled that systemic racial bias within the criminal justice system caused our State’s felony disenfranchisement law to be in conflict with the Voting Rights Act. That ruling, which was overturned on appeal, temporarily granted voting rights to incarcerated felons.
During the trial, plaintiffs relied heavily on two University of Washington studies that found that racial discrimination was evident throughout our criminal justice system. Specifically, they found that blacks are more likely to be investigated, searched, charged, held over for trial, convicted, and given harsher sentences.
These studies were not in dispute. Defense accepted the conclusions and presented no evidence to the contrary. Instead they argued that even though systemic racial discrimination exists, the Voting Rights Act is nevertheless inapplicable to the State’s felony disenfranchisement provision. McKenna won that argument on appeal. (The court ruled that inmates would individually have to prove they were victims of racial bias in order for the VRA to apply and their voting rights restored.)
Armed with the facts that racial discrimination plagues our criminal justice system at all levels, and asked a specific question about racial disparity in prison, Attorney General McKenna not only failed to acknowledge the problem, he implied it does not exist.
Which means we can forget about making much progress towards ending racial discrimination in the criminal justice system so long as Rob McKenna is Attorney General. Or Governor.