Interesting email from a reader:
In my entering class at the University of Michigan (fall 1986), the
disparity was a little greater than you suggest. The student newspaper
got the statistics and published them. For whites, the average GPA was
a 3.57, with the average LSAT at 42 (which meant 95th percentile). For
blacks, the average GPA was a 3.1, with the average LSAT score at 35 or
so (about 55th percentile).
The University reacted appropriately and promptly stopped maintaining
these statistics although similar statistics was then prepared as part
of the U of M Law School case. My reading of them was that the
admission criteria resulted in a similar disparity in achievement.
One of the odd things about law schools and big law firms is that big
law firms would much rather hire someone in the top 5% of their class at
a second tier school instead of hiring someone in the bottom half of
their class at a top ten school. I fell into the latter category.
Nonetheless, the rationale for doing so is basically sound as (1) big
law firms have no intention of making every associate into a partner and
(2) big law firms want the associates that will bill as much as
possible. If you are in the top 5% at a second tier law school, that
probably means that you worked harder than at least 90% of your class.
Getting into a big law firm initially makes a tremendous difference in
the rest of your career.
Anyway, recognizing that there are exceptions to all rules, it is still
a fact that a black student with substantially lower GPA and LSAT scores
than almost all of his classmates probably cannot make up the difference
by studying harder and will likely end up in the lower part of his
class. If his GPA and LSAT scores were in a range that were more or
less average for his law school, then he could study harder, get into
the big law firm and work his way up from there. Getting the
substantial break that you get from affirmative action makes this much
As far as whether schools should be able to use affirmative action, my
thought is the private colleges and universities should be free to do
whatever they want, and the market will take care of the rest. Public
colleges and universities should be prohibited from doing so, either
under the Constitution, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (I agree with
Ramesh about the relative strength of this argument relative to the
Constitutional issues) or under state law.