City Bar Files Amicus Brief in U.S. Supreme Court in Support of University of Texas Admissions Policy

The New York City Bar Association yesterday filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court in support of the constitutionality of the admissions policy of the University of Texas, in the case of Abigail Noel Fisher v. University of Texas, et al. The lawsuit challenges the ability of public colleges and universities to take account of race as a factor in admissions policy. “The University of Texas admissions policy is fully consistent with constitutional requirements, as set forth in Supreme Court jurisprudence, because it gives holistic, individualized attention to each applicant and does not permit race to be a single or predominant factor in determining whether to review,” states the City Bar’s brief. “Indeed, the role of race in the University of Texas admissions process is even more modest than it was in the Harvard University or the University of Michigan Law School procedures approved by prior decisions of this Court.” In its brief, drafted by its Education and the Law Committee, the City Bar focuses on the perspective of the legal community, and ties undergraduate diversity to efforts to increase diversity in the legal profession. The brief notes that despite the efforts of the legal community to diversify, including efforts led by the City Bar, lawyers of color are underrepresented; yet, “as law practice becomes increasingly globalized, the world it is servicing is overwhelmingly comprised of people of color,” states the brief. “In order to serve these individuals, and the businesses, institutions and organizations they lead, lawyers must have a range of cultural experiences and insights and a keen understanding of those they represent.” The brief states that in order for the legal profession to become more diverse, there must be a broader pool of students of color at the undergraduate level who are interested in pursuing a legal career: “students who have the ability to negotiate and mediate, to exercise leadership, to persevere and to see a matter through to its conclusion; in other words, students who some day would be effective in understanding and serving clients’ legal needs.” In the context of undergraduate admissions, the brief continues, “these are the kinds of skills and attributes that may not necessarily be reflected in grades and standardized test scores, but which may instead be identified by examining the totality of an applicant’s background and experience.” The brief cites the City Bar’s Student Pipeline Program as an example of a program that uses a holistic approach to identify talented inner-city high school students with the potential to be effective lawyers, to underscore the importance of admissions offices of undergraduate institutions similarly undertaking individual, holistic evaluations going beyond grades and standardized tests to identify students who would enrich and diversify their student bodies. Because “diversity is essential to an effective legal profession,” and because “holistic evaluations of undergraduate applicants’ credentials” can best identify the skills needed to be an effective lawyer, “[t]he effort of the University of Texas to increase the diversity of its student body is not only commendable but is essential to increase the number of students of color who go on to professional careers and thus take leadership roles in society,” states the brief.