Law schools are discriminating in their admissions policies, the New York Times suggests. From 1993 to 2008, both the percentage and number of black and Mexican American law students declined, despite the fact that their grade-point averages and Law School Admissions Test scores were rising. Schools are setting their standards “very high,” one law-school dean explained. And yet we know, he went on, “those students with slightly lower L.S.A.T. scores can graduate, pass the bar, and be terrific lawyers.”
Well, yes, they can graduate, and can pass the bar, but as UCLA law professor Richard Sander has shown, students who come into law schools already behind are less likely to complete law school and far more likely to fail the bar exam repeatedly than their more academically skilled peers.
In any case, black and Mexican American scores have been going up; maybe those of whites and Asians have been rising more impressively — widening the racial gap in performance. The Times describes minority credentials as “very close” to those of white applicants, but how close is “very”?
Are we really to believe American law schools want more whites and fewer blacks and Mexican-Americans?
When will the racism-everywhere become yesterday’s tune? As Roger Clegg reported in a splendid little Corner piece yesterday, the Ninth Circuit has decided the State of Washington, in disfranchising felons, has violated the Voting Rights Act. The state’s criminal justice system is rife with racial discrimination, the court found.
“Minorities are disproportionately prosecuted and sentenced, resulting in their disproportionate representation among the persons disenfranchised under the Washington Constitution,” Judge A. Wallace Tashima wrote for the Circuit Court. The disproportionately high representation of (non-Asian) minorities in the prison population suggests a criminal justice system infected with racism. But suppose the court had found that blacks and Hispanics have actually been committing felonies in disproportionately high numbers. No matter. That would only show that the entire society — not just the criminal justice system — is racist. Racism drives them to a life of crime.
How to answer such arguments? You can’t.
— Abigail Thernstrom is the author, most recently, of Voting Rights — and Wrongs: The Elusive Quest for Racially Fair Elections. She is an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and vice chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.