State Bar of California, Civil Rights Group Spar over Affirmative Action

William LaJeunesse, Fox News, October 16, 2007

Does affirmative action work? An explosive study that suggests it does not is pitting the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights against the State Bar of California in a battle over admissions data that could determine once and for all if racial preferences help or hurt minority students.

“Currently only about one in three African-Americans who goes to an American law school passes the bar on the first attempt and a majority never become lawyers at all,” says UCLA law professor Richard Sander.

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Known as the ‘mismatch’ effect, Sander claims students who are unprepared and whose academic credentials are below the median are admitted to law schools they are unqualified to attend. If those same students instead were to go to less elite or competitive schools, more would graduate, pass the bar and become lawyers.

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Recently, a California bar committee voted 5-3 to turn down Sander’s request to use bar data collected over the last three decades on student test scores, law school admissions, academic performance and bar passage rates.

The data, considered a gold standard by affirmative action researchers, is considered key to determine if racial preferences work.

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“The release (bar exam) applicants sign does not allow us to release the information to third parties,” Whitnie Henderson told FOX News. “Looking at all the information we just decided it was not something that fit within the committee’s purview.”

Henderson headed the committee that rejected Sander’s request. Contrary to her statement, twice in the last 15 years the California Bar released individual information to outside researchers.

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Law schools do not disclose attrition, graduation and bar passage rates to minorities admitted through preferences and have opposed pressure to do so. About 62 percent of today’s top black lawyers attended the most elite U.S. law schools, according to Law Professor Richard Lempert at the University of Michigan.

Unlike Sander, Lempert believes the number of black lawyers would decrease if affirmative action ended. He says race, ethnicity and LSAT scores do not predict future income or satisfaction.

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