Affirmative Action’s Results

The California Supreme Court will decide soon whether or not the State
Bar has to reveal data about performance on the Golden State’s bar
examination. According to an article by Bob Egelko at the San Francisco Chronicle:

The California Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether the State Bar must release racial data from the bar exam to a law professor who believes affirmative action may hurt minorities.

The bar has collected racial information from test-takers since the 1970s, promising them confidentiality and publishing only overall results for racial and ethnic groups. But UCLA Law Professor Richard Sander wants individual information for a 25-year period, with
names deleted, to test his thesis about private universities with minority admissions programs.

Sander contends that affirmative action preferences actually hurt minority students because it puts them into legal studies programs where they don’t belong. These students then find themselves unable to pass the bar examination and eventually become lawyers.

Before now, however, he had no way to prove it. He’s attempting to demonstrate that minority citizens admitted to law schools under affirmative action policies have lower pass rates on the state bar exam. The state bar was reluctant to share that information, reveling only overall results for racial and ethnic groups. Sander wants individual information, so he can connect the bar results to individual law schools and their admissions standards.

There’s no good reason to keep information like this a secret (Sander won’t know the names of students, the information connecting students to their schools), but it seems odd Sander is placing so much emphasis on this one detail. Even if he can demonstrate lower bar pass rates for people who attended law school under affirmative action programs, that doesn’t really prove his point. Such information doesn’t necessarily indicate that Affirmative Action was harmful; are they less likely to pass the bar exam than they would have been if they attended law schools without affirmative action programs?

California law prohibits affirmative action in state-supported colleges. The practice is allowed at private institutions, however.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer