Education Law

Gov't Report Pans Law School Affirmative Action

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In a controversial report, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights may not call for an outright ban on law school affirmative action. But by putting its weight behind a 2004 study that says racial preferences may help propel disadvantaged minorities into academic programs for which they are not qualified, the agency at least calls into question whether affirmative action is becoming an anachronism and launches itself into the center of a contentious argument. The 2004 study was published in the Stanford Law Review and was authored by Richard Sander, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Among other measures, the commission’s report calls for the American Bar Association to stop requiring ABA-accredited law schools to demonstrate that they are trying to achieve racial diversity, writes the National Law Journal. Instead, the group suggests legislation should be enacted to require law schools to disclose the racial preferences that they apply during the admission process.

Gerald A. Reynolds, the commission’s chairman, did not respond the the National law Journal’s request for comment but said in a written statement that traditional affirmative action is not the best way to help disadvantaged minorities. “A true civil rights strategy would focus on these students much earlier in their educational development, rather than providing them with inadequate training and then using preferential treatment to admit them into schools at which they are likely to fail,” writes Reynolds, who is black. He is assistant general counsel for Kansas City Power & Light Co.

Similar points were made by Gail Heriot, another member of the commission, in a recent Wall Street Journal (reg. req.) opinion piece. Heriot is a law professor at the University of San Diego.

The report, Affirmative Action in American Law Schools (provided by the Wall Street Journal), has been criticized by Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, among others. He contends it is ideologically driven rather than factually based. “The Commission seems set on sabotaging the very mission it was designed to protect—the enforcement of our nation’s civil rights laws,” he says in a press release. “This report not only undermines the country’s commitment to equal opportunity, it diminishes our highest ideals.”

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