Attorney General Reno Promotes Law School Diversity at Conference
Law schools should be allowed to take race into account when making admissions decisions in order to help bring diversity to the ranks of law school graduates and the legal system, Attorney General Janet Reno said earlier this month.
“Without considering race in higher education admissions, we would most likely have classrooms with far fewer minorities,” Reno said at a conference on diversity.
Mentioning federal lawsuits against the University of Michigan’s affirmative-action admissions policy, Reno says she believes consideration of race could be used legally to achieve diversity and to remedy past discrimination.
Two 1997 class-action lawsuits allege the university’s policies discriminate against Whites in favor of less-qualified minorities. One lawsuit pertains to undergraduate admissions and one focuses on the law school (see related story, pg. 13).
Reno spoke to about 200 professors, admissions directors and lawyers at the Joint Conference on Diversity held by the American Bar Association, Association of American Law Schools and the Law School Admission Council.
More lawyers are needed to give all Americans access to the legal system as the country diversifies, Reno says.
“If we’re going to identify the best people for law school, we have to take the time to look beyond test scores to look into the spirits, minds and hearts of applicants to our law schools,” she says.
The U.S. Census Bureau pro-jects that ethnic minorities will make up 47 percent of the population in 2050, up from about 30 percent today.
But the law-school admission rate for minorities, if all are considered together, has lagged behind that of Whites since 1986. In 1998 and 1999, 77 percent of Whites who applied were admitted, compared with 55 percent of all minorities, conference organizers say.
In 1996-’97, minorities earned 19.8 percent of the law degrees granted in the country, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
Reno says hate crimes, racial profiling and voluntary segregation in neighborhoods are “evidence many people on both sides of the racial divide still don’t believe the law speaks for them.”
Rhonda Magee Andrews, an associate professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, says she was encouraged by Reno’s suggestion for more diversity training, an idea her school is discussing.
“Her commitment to diversity is inspiring,” she says. “It’s right on with what we need to do to prepare law students for the 21st century and beyond.”
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