Affirmative-Action Researchers Sue California Bar for Data on Law-School Graduates

September 04, 2008

Two researchers who question the benefits of affirmative action are asking the California Supreme Court to force that state’s bar to release years of data showing how law-school graduates of different races and ethnicities perform on their bar exams.

The lead plaintiff in the suit, filed last month, is Richard H. Sander, a professor of law at the University of California at Los Angeles and the author of a controversial 2004 study arguing that race-conscious admissions policies hurt many black law students, by setting them up to perform so poorly in law school that they have less chance of entering their chosen field.

He is joined as a plaintiff by Joe Hicks — a community activist and former governor of the California state bar who is involved in a consortium of affirmative-action researchers organized by Mr. Sander — and by the California First Amendment Coalition.

Mr. Sander has sought since 2006 to get the state bar to voluntarily produce data on students’ exam performances, but, at the urging of various interest groups and some law-school deans, the state bar has refused. Mr. Sander’s lawsuit argues that the bar-exam results are public records that can be released with redactions to protect the privacy of individual law-school graduates.

The state bar, however, argues that students taking the test were assured that their personal information and results would not be released to third parties.

Mr. Sander’s research has been challenged by several other scholars in recent years. Most recently it came under fire in an analysis published last spring in The University of Chicago Law Review. Mr. Sander has rebutted the critics and is arguing that the California bar’s data on tens of thousands of bar-exam takers would help settle the debate over whether race-conscious admissions policies help or hurt minority students. —Peter Schmidt