Does Race have a Place in Admissions?

ALBANY, NY- The New York State Bar Association has filed a “friend of the court,” or amicus curiae, brief with the United States Supreme Court in the case of Abigail Noel Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, et al., which deals with race as a factor in undergraduate admission decisions.

“Our brief emphasizes the importance of promoting diversity in the legal profession because of the central role that lawyers, judges and legal institutions play in our society,” said State Bar President Seymour W. James, Jr. of New York City (The Legal Aid Society). “As our nation’s demographics change, it is crucial for our profession to reflect the diversity of our population. To that end, it is essential for our nation’s colleges to graduate talented and qualified diverse candidates, and to encourage them to enter the legal profession.”

On October 10, U.S. Supreme Court justices will hear arguments on the constitutionality of the admissions policies of the University of Texas at Austin. The case was brought by Abigail Noel Fisher, who argues she was denied admission because of her race.

In its amicus brief, the New York State Bar Association does not take a position on the university’s admission policy. Instead, it asks the Supreme Court to re-affirm its 2003 holding in Grutter v. Bollinger that racial diversity in higher education is a compelling government interest.

The brief argues that increasing racial diversity within the legal profession is a compelling government interest. “The legal profession is overwhelmingly white in a country that is increasingly diverse. As of the 2000 Census, more than 90 percent of attorneys in the United States were white (not Hispanic),” says the brief, adding that in 25 or so years, demographers estimate that the United States population may be less than 50 percent white (not Hispanic).

If the legal profession does not reflect the nation’s diversity, our civil and criminal justice systems will be undermined, argues the New York State Bar Association in its brief.

The amicus brief concludes, “The government has a compelling interest in promoting diversity in the legal profession. That can be achieved only if colleges and universities graduate students of color in substantial numbers to fill law school seats.”

The brief was filed on behalf of the New York State Bar Association by President James. It was prepared by David M. Schraver and David Tennant, both of Rochester (Nixon Peabody). Schraver is president-elect of the State Bar Association. Tennant is the immediate past chair of the Association’s Commercial and Federal Litigation Section.

A copy of the amicus curiae brief is available at http://www.nysba.org/amicusbrief.

The 77,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. It was founded in 1876.

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