Washington Supreme Court reverses 1960 cemetery decision

The old, already illegal rule allowed cemeteries to discriminate on the basis of race.

Associated Press

SEATTLE — The Washington state Supreme Court has reversed its 1960 decision that allowed cemeteries to discriminate on the basis of race, a rule considered irrelevant as federal and state regulations have already made it illegal.

The Supreme Court said on Thursday it was trying to reckon with the court system’s long history of racial discrimination and was taking a small symbolic step to undo systemic racism, The Seattle Times reported.

Following national protests stemming from the police killing of George Floyd, all nine justices on the court wrote an open letter in June foreshadowing their plans to overrule the decision that made it illegal for cemeteries to “refuse burial to any person because such person may not be of the Caucasian race.”

“This very court once held that a cemetery could lawfully deny grieving black parents the right to bury their infant,” the justices said in the letter. “We cannot undo this wrong — but we can recognize our ability to do better in the future.”

The decision came as the Supreme Court simultaneously denied an initiative on Thursday that would have lowered many state vehicle-registration fees to $30.

“It’s institutionally really important that the courts look backward in time and acknowledge when things are really wrong, when they accomplish an injustice rather than justice,” University of Washington School of Law professor Theo Myhre said.

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