In a drawn-out fight over affirmative action’s effects, the Supreme Court in California ruled late last month that law school information on grades, attendance, and race should be made available to the public.
The decision was unanimous, and it represented a huge legal victory for a law professor who wanted to test his theory that minority students actually suffer harm from the affirmative action-based admission policies.
The law professor at UC Los Angeles unleashed a firestorm when he published the theory in 2004.
Critics sharply criticized his conclusions, stating that he underestimated the good effects of affirmative action and came up with his ideas through insufficient statistical data.
To drive his research further, he tried to get the data with a public records request in 2008. However, the State Bar Association declined his request, and that is what prompted the lawsuit.
Mr. Sander said that the state bar database is unmatched when it comes to demographic sources that he uses in his research activities.
He said that getting access to the database was extremely valuable, and he called it a big breakthrough.
State bar officials did not make any official comment on the matter after they had lost the lawsuit.
The Supreme Court of the state said that the case had to be sent to a trial judge to find out whether the requested data can be given to Sander without hurting the applicants’ basic expectation of privacy in this kind of area.
In the court’s ruling, the judge said that the test takers’ identities had to be protected from getting disclosed.
Sander and his attorneys said that they will pay the money to the state bar for the trouble of redacting names and protecting test takers’ identities, in order to get access to the data.
The state bar officials argued in court that disclosing the data would violate the confidentiality agreements it had to the several thousand applicants who take the test each year.
State bar lawyers argued that the state bar is an element of the judicial branch and cannot be held to the same standards that the open-records laws hold to other kinds of public agencies.
The chief justice of the Supreme Court, however, said that judicial branch records, like the records of other kinds of public agencies, are open if there is a valid public interest and no other factor outweighs disclosing them.
The chief justice wrote that the public had a valid interest to know about the state bar, how it administers the bar exam, and about the admissions process. He said it was beyond argument that the public had a right to know whether certain groups of applicants, based on ethnicity, race, or sex, perform differently on the bar exam and whether any performance disparities are the result of how the admissions process is conducted.
Sander wants all the information on ethnicity, attendance, and grades at different law schools, test scores and the percentage at which test takes passed the test.