Misuse of the Law School Admissions Test, Racial Discrimination, and the De Facto Quota System for Restricting African-American Access to the Legal Profession

By Nussbaumer, John | St. John's Law Review, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Misuse of the Law School Admissions Test, Racial Discrimination, and the De Facto Quota System for Restricting African-American Access to the Legal Profession


Nussbaumer, John, St. John's Law Review


INTRODUCTION

Efforts during the past ten years to diversify America's law schools by enrolling more African-American students have failed because those responsible for law school admissions and accreditation practices have created a de facto and racially discriminatory quota system that restricts African-America n access to the legal profession.

African-Americans comprise approximately 13% of the United States population.1 The total number of AfricanAmericans enrolled at all ÁÂÁ-approved law schools peaked in 1994 at 9681 students,2 which at that time represented 7.5% of all enrolled students. Total law school enrollment in 1994 was 128,989 students,3 and total minority enrollment was 24,611 students.4

From 1994-2004, the ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar fully or provisionally approved fifteen new law schools.5 During this same period, total law school enrollment increased to 140,376 students (+8.8%) and total minority enrollment increased to 29,489 students (+19.8%).6 But, total African-American enrollment decreased from 9681 to 9488 students (-2%),7 which represents just 6.8% of all enrolled students.

This same pattern repeats itself in the total number of J.D. degrees awarded to African-American graduates of ABAapproved law schools. This number peaked in 1998 at 2943 degrees awarded.8 Since then, while the total number of degrees awarded to all law school graduates increased to 40,018 in 2004 (+1.4%),9 the total number of degrees awarded to AfricanAmerican graduates during the same period decreased to 2719 (-7.6%).10

A similar pattern is evident in the number of AfricanAmerican applicants in the pipeline to law school. The Law School Admissions Council recently released its preliminary data for the Fall 2005 entering class at ABA-approved schools. While the number of total applicants for the year fell by 4.6%," the number of African-American applicants fell by 8.2%, nearly double the national rate.1- In contrast, the number of Caucasian applicants fell by just 3.3% and the number of Hispanic/Latino applicants actually increased by 1.8%.13 Only one ethnic group had a greater decrease in applicants than African-Americans."

These statistics make clear that American legal education is moving backwards, not forwards, in providing access to law school for African-American students. Simultaneously, the number and percentage of African-American students enrolled in ABA-approved schools and of African-American graduates of those schools decreased while the number and percentage of African-American applicants in the pipeline to law school also decreased.

This triple downward spiral is directly contrary to the clear intent of the ABA's elected leadership, which has made diversifying the profession one of the ABA's top priorities.15 Most recently, ABA President Michael S. Greco created the ABA Presidential Advisory Council on Diversity in the Profession, which is focusing its efforts on expanding the pipeline to law school for racial and ethnic minorities."' As stated by Evett L. Simmons, the Chair of the Presidential Advisory Council:

The American Bar Association's Presidential Advisory Council on Diversity in the Profession offers programs and services to improve diversity in the "pipeline" to the legal profession. Our charge is to increase the number of people of color on the track to becoming lawyers.17

This Article examines two obstacles that African-Americans currently face in obtaining admission to law school. The first is law school admissions practices that have a disparate impact on minority students and appear to be driven by competitive, economic motives. And the second is law school accreditation practices that have a disparate impact on minority students without valid, reliable, and objective evidence establishing that these practices have a legitimate educational purpose.

I. LAW SCHOOL ADMISSIONS PRACTICES

On September 7, 2005, St. …

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