National Jurist - January 2009 - (Page 6)
HOTBUTTON Topic: Affirmative Action FOR Lindsay Garroway 3L at New York Law School Like many students, the law school application process left me exhausted and feeling like I was merely an LSAT score among thousands of others. An LSAT score reveals little about a person’s cultural background or what educational disadvantages he or she has had to overcome. Affirmative action evens the playing field. Law schools should consider a wide range of criteria in their admissions considerations. An individual’s family, culture, work experiences, accomplishments, aspirations and even their race must factor into the admissions process, for the benefit of the individual as well as the law school itself. Despite the fact that race-based affirmative action remains a polarizing issue, the Supreme Court’s 2003 holding in Grutter v. University of Michigan definitively authorizes the consideration of race, among other factors, in admitting students to law schools. And this remains the standard that law school admissions committees are held to today. Critics of the Grutter decision claim that racebased affirmative action creates a negative stigma that is damaging to minority students. However, every first year student must prove themselves when exam time comes around. And any stigma of ineptitude may be overcome by superior performance. An affirmative action beneficiary, once admitted, must earn passing grades and is measured on a curve against his or her peers. In short, good grades speak for themselves. With law school admissions at such a competitive level, it is understandable for students to feel cheated by the idea that they were denied admission to their preferred school while a person of lesser qualifications was let in. However, students seem to be under the misconception that minorities are stealing all the seats away from qualified white students. However, the truth is that affirmative action helps a relatively small group of applicants. Consider that only 10 percent of law students today are African American, Asian American, Latino or Native American, while these groups comprise 33 percent of the U.S. population in general. Admission of African American law students has actually declined in recent years. The Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) has started actively courting minorities to the profession with campaigns like Discoverlaw.org in order to increase the number of minority students that apply to law school. LSAC and law school admissions committees seek out minority students for good reason. The Supreme Court has recognized over and over again that diversity in the classroom is a valuable and compelling state interest. What would classroom discussions in a law school be without the contribution of students from different backgrounds and cultures? Certainly a discussion about affirmative action in a constitutional law class would be constricted with only white upper-middle class students to contribute their experiences and viewpoints. Affirmative action is universally beneficially because the classroom environment benefits from a heterogeneous group of students who express opposing values, ideas and perspectives. Should affirmative action be a consideration for law school admissions? Paige Kohn 2L at Capital University Law School AGAINST In 2003, the contentious policy of affirmative action was placed in the national spotlight when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Grutter v. Bollinger, where a white applicant argued the use of race in The University of Michigan Law School’s admissions process was unconstitutional. While the Court ruled the race-conscious process constitutional, based on the school’s narrowly tailored program serving a compelling interest, diversity, an important question still remains. Even if affirmative action is deemed constitutional, should law schools use affirmative action in their admissions decisions? Without a doubt, affirmative action in law school admissions has many laudable aims, from providing educational opportunities to minorities to creating a class environment based on distinctive viewpoints. Unfortunately, affirmative action requires unequal means to achieve an equal end. Due to this flaw, it is ultimately an inequitable policy that should not be used to cure past discrimination and promote diversity. The process is unequal because it perpetuates a notion that America has long sought to overcome: preference based on race, gender, ethnicity or religion. Providing affirmative action for some of these groups, but not others, will only elongate an embarrassing saga of discrimination. Further, it contradicts the American ideal of achieving success through merit. Affirmative action provides an admissions bonus to certain individuals based on something relatively arbitrary like race, rather than clear signs of promise like diligence. This not only provides a disincentive to do one’s best for those who receive this bonus, but also creates understandable jealousy in hard-working students who are not members of privileged groups. Instead, admissions officials should focus on characteristics that will most likely lead to a successful law student and future lawyer: intellectual and professional ambition, work ethic, openness to new ideas and people, teamwork, perseverance in the face of obstacles and ingenuity. Diversity can be achieved through carefully evaluating personal statements, resumes, and letters of recommendation. Undoubtedly, relying more on these non-numerical factors will be more expensive and time-consuming to law schools than affirmative action, and while American history shows that equality has never been a bargain ideal, it far outweighs discrimination. The obvious problem with this approach is that it doesn’t guarantee, or even necessarily address, the goals affirmative action tries to fix. Nevertheless, truly remedying past discrimination and creating diversity in professional schools requires starting at the beginning, not the end, of an individual’s educational career. Children need opportunities, mentors, good teachers, support and quality doctrinal learning during their elementary and secondary school years to succeed. Without sincere attempts to improve the educational playing field before reaching law school, diversity will be difficult to achieve. But affirmative action in law school just allows easy avoidance of the real problem: lack of commitment to quality education for all. The reason why affirmative action is so attractive lies in its simplicity and feel-good way to remedy past wrongs. Law schools that take this shortcut, however, only undercut the principles that uphold our legal system: equality, fairness and justice. As such, affirmative action should be abandoned. January 2009 6 THE NATIONAL JURIST
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