NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 28, 2007

There are fewer black attorneys today than there would have been if law schools had practiced color-blind admissions.  The culprit -- admitting minority students to schools for which they are inadequately prepared, says Gail Heriot, professor of law at the University of San Diego and a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

According to UCLA law professor Richard Sander:

  • The average black student's academic index is more than two standard deviations below that of his average white classmate.
  • In elite law schools, 51.6 percent of black students had first-year grade point averages in the bottom 10 percent of their class as opposed to only 5.6 percent of white students.
  • Nearly identical performance gaps existed at law schools at all levels.

Supporters of race-based admissions argue that minority students are still better off graduating from a more prestigious school. But Sander's research suggests that just the opposite may be true -- that law students, may learn less, not more, when they enroll in schools for which they are not academically prepared:

  • When black and white students with similar academic credentials compete against each other at the same school, they earn about the same grades.
  • Similarly, when black and white students with similar grades from the same tier law school take the bar examination, they pass at about the same rate.
  • Yet, paradoxically, black students as a whole have dramatically lower bar passage rates than white students with similar credentials.

According to Sander, the most plausible explanation is that, as a result of affirmative action, black and white students with similar credentials are not attending the same schools.  White students are attending schools that move more slowly and spend more time on matters that are covered on the bar exam.  They are learning, while their minority peers are struggling at more elite schools.

Source: Gail Heriot, "Affirmative Action Backfires," Wall Street Journal, August 24, 2007.

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