Civil-Rights Panel Will Call for Law Schools to Release Data on Affirmative Action

August 27, 2007

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights plans to issue a report tomorrow calling for federal and state officials to require law schools to disclose detailed information about their affirmative-action policies and the short- and long-term success of the minority students they admit.

The report also will urge the section of the American Bar Association that accredits law schools to drop a requirement that law schools seeking accreditation demonstrate a commitment to diversity, with a majority of the commission’s members arguing that such a requirement infringes on the schools’ academic freedom. Among its other recommendations, the report will call for the National Academy of Sciences or some other entity to finance research on the impact of law schools’ affirmative-action policies, and it will urge state bar associations to cooperate with such research.

In issuing the report, the commission will be weighing in on two fairly heated controversies over affirmative action at law schools: a debate over the bar association’s diversity standards, which first came under attack by groups critical of affirmative action early last year, and a more recent fight by Richard H. Sander, a professor of law at the University of California at Los Angeles, to try to gain access to data from the State Bar of California showing bar-passage rates broken down by racial and ethnic group.

The eight-member commission approved the report’s recommendations overwhelmingly, with the only opposition coming from its two Democratic members. —Peter Schmidt