Posted on March 22, 2024

Supreme Court Declares Washington State Bar Exam Racist Because … Equity

Jason Rantz, KTTH, March 19, 2024

The Washington State Supreme Court decided the bar exam is no longer required to become a lawyer in the state. Their reason? The bar exam is racist, which they say “disproportionately and unnecessarily blocks historically marginalized groups from entering the practice of law.”

At the height of the extremist Black Lives Matter movement, the court-appointed the Bar Licensure Task Force to provide alternative ways to earn a law license. {snip} They claimed the exam is, “at best minimally effective” at ensuring a client is competently represented in court.


Task force members declared the bar exam racist and classist because of how it’s written and the impact they think it has on who becomes a lawyer. They criticize the entire process of becoming a lawyer as a “dam, rather hastily built … that holds back more water than it should.”

“The bar exam … is a way to regulate the profession and it keeps going back to an intention to exclude historically excluded groups,” Matt Audish said during a July 2021 task force meeting, appearing to cite research.

Audish went on to claim that the “bar exam generally measures privilege more so than the competency to study law” because it’s easy for wealthy people to take time off of work to study for it.

The task force concluded in their summary findings that the bar exam costs and time to study “reinforce historical inequities in our profession.”

Even though they declare the bar exam racist, they do not think it should be abandoned. Instead, it can be offered as an option, though they do think it should be easier to pass. They recommend cutting the minimum cut score to pass down to 266 because the average test scores are 267.


To be admitted to the bar, one must show high moral character and fitness, in addition to passing the bar exam. But the task force members think this has a “detrimental impact … on vulnerable communities.”

Focusing on “morality” and “professionalism,” they argue, are “often euphemisms for discrimination.” Task force members complain that “professionalism” is “recognized as a standard historically and arbitrarily defined by proximity to wealth, whiteness, and masculinity.” They imply that this standard is part of the “systems of oppressions plaguing the legal system.”

And criminals shouldn’t be automatically punished during the process. They recommended that if a would-be lawyer hasn’t committed a crime within five years, they should be allowed entry into the bar. They complain that “the criminal system is plagued by racism and discrimination that severely disadvantages already disenfranchised populations.”


A major complaint of the task force members is that the legal community is not diverse enough.{snip}


Indeed, the task force complains that the Washington State Bar Association is 83% white and 56% male. This is proof, they believe, of racism and bias in the licensing process and “specifically the character and fitness inquiry.” Accepting the task force’s recommendations to ditch mandatory bar exam will lead to more diverse lawyers in the state, they contend.