California Bar Must Share Race Data

California’s state Bar must make law school data on race, grades and attendance available to the public, in a long-running feud with a law professor seeking to test his theory that minority students are harmed by preferential admission policies.

The California Supreme Court Thursday held that the information, compiled by the bar, should be available and sent the case back to the trial judge to determine if it could be released without violating bar applicants’ privacy.

“The public’s interest in the information in the database would contribute to the public’s understanding of the State Bar’s admissions activities, and is sufficient to warrant further consideration of whether any countervailing consideration weighs against public access,” said Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.  The decision was unanimous.

The California bar is responsible for licensing and disciplining of lawyers.

University of California, Los Angeles law professor Richard Sander stirred up considerable controversy when he published a “mismatch theory” in the Stanford Law Review in 2004.

Sander sought to bolster his research by using data on ethnicity and scholastic performance, which is compiled by the state Bar of California.  The bar refused and Sander sued.

His original research used a 1991 database of 27,500 students from 160 schools, which showed that black students historically get poorer grades than their white counterparts in law school.  The black student drop-out right is also higher and the bar exam pass rate is lower than white students, according to the data.

Sander concluded that affirmative action was the reason for the disparity.

As the legal challenge progressed, legal aid groups such as the Equal Justice Society and For People of Color joined with the San Francisco Bar Association to keep the data private.

Many media companies and free speech advocates urged the court to release the information.

“Because plaintiffs do not seek the information in a manner that would reveal the identities of individual applicants, the State Bar’s promises of confidentiality do not necessarily preclude public access to the database,” wrote Cantil-Sakauye.

Case: Sander v. State Bar of California, S194951



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