`Black' Law Schools Face Challenges of a New Day

By Wilson, Darryl C. | Black Issues in Higher Education, April 12, 2001 | Go to article overview

`Black' Law Schools Face Challenges of a New Day


Wilson, Darryl C., Black Issues in Higher Education


Howard University School of Law is the pre-eminent "Black" law school in this country. Its history of renowned lawyers, academics and jurists make it a respected institution, transcending racial and ethnic barriers. Administrators and alumni work together at Howard Law to effectively hold non-Black enrollment to 20 percent or less, thus assuring a strong continuity with its heritage.

Florida A&M University (FAMU) recently joined the law school ranks with a primary goal of increasing the number of Black attorneys in Florida to more than the present 2 percent, as well as nationwide, where the figure is about 4 percent. These goals are certainly laudable since minority underrepresentation in the legal system historically has facilitated disparate treatment. The attainment of the goals is, however, questionable in light of the decrease in the number of Black law school applicants.

For FAMU, replicating Howard's success in legal academia will be a daunting task. FAMU's law school was originally established because Blacks were not allowed to attend the state law schools. When Florida decided to reverse this position, albeit under sometimes egregious circumstances such as Blacks being literally screened from the sight of Whites, the state dismantled the FAMU law school.

Some FAMU officials found the closing of the school more racially prejudicial than its dubious establishment and decided to fight for the school's reopening. FAMU ultimately became part of a "package deal" establishing a number of new schools throughout Florida. Unlike Howard, FAMU is a state school, meaning almost all activities bear the imprimatur of state action. Thus, showing favoritism to Blacks in admissions, retention or financial assistance may serve as a basis for an equal protection action premised on reverse discrimination. Indeed, Florida's anti-affirmative action plan known as "One Florida" indirectly inhibits FAMU's efforts to secure the best pool of Black students.

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`Black' Law Schools Face Challenges of a New Day
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