Judge Denies Affirmative-Action Researchers Access to California Bar Association Data

March 30, 2010

A California state judge has rejected a bid by two researchers examining affirmative action to gain access to California Bar Association data on the long-term success of law-school graduates.

Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow of the California Superior Court for San Francisco County ruled last week that the state bar is not legally obliged to release the data sought by Richard H. Sander, a professor of law at the University of California at Los Angeles, and Joe Hicks, a former governor of the California state bar who is involved in a consortium of affirmative-action researchers organized by Mr. Sander. The two men were joined by the California First Amendment Coalition in their lawsuit, which seeks state-bar data on law students broken down by race and ethnicity.

Judge Karnow's ruling was technically a "proposed statement of decision," but it is expected to become final after a 15-day period for comment from the lawyers for both sides. The judge held that the researchers' argument for access to the data under public-records laws relied on a definition of "public document" that was overly broad, and could be interpreted as covering judges' rough notes, grand-jury transcripts, and other documents that the courts have long held to be exempt.

Mr. Sander has generated controversy in the past with research concluding that selective law schools' race-conscious admission policies set up many minority students for long-term failure. He said Tuesday that he planned to appeal Judge Karnow's ruling, which he said was based on an excessively narrow interpretation of the law. "We are not at all disheartened by the lower-court decision," he said, adding that he predicts the appellate court "will not give it great weight."