The California Supreme Court ruled in favor of an affirmative action opponent Thursday in his prolonged fight for access to data on race, grades and attendance kept by the state bar association.
Richard Sander, a University of California, Los Angeles law professor, first sought data from the state bar association in 2008 in an attempt to corroborate his highly controversial stance on affirmative action published in the Stanford Law Review in 2004. Critics argued that Sander relied on inadequate statistics to come to his conclusion that affirmative action was placing unprepared minority students in law schools where they weren’t equipped to succeed.
When the bar association denied him access to data on bar exam pass rates, Sander sued.
“Despite the strength of Professor Sander's conclusion on race-based preferences in higher education, advocates of race preferences restrict access to data that would allow those conclusions to be further empirically tested,” the lawsuit reads.
Keeping the data sealed, Sander argued, would hinder assessments of affirmative action’s effectiveness.
“Professor Sander's research could help demonstrate that bar exams, legal instruction or grading methods are in fact discriminatory, and that minorities would be better served by society concentrating remedial efforts on those problems,” the lawsuit stated.
The case eventually made it to the California Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously Thursday that access to the data is in fact a public right.
"It seems beyond dispute that the public has a legitimate interest in whether different groups of applicants, based on race, sex or ethnicity, perform differently on the bar examination and whether any disparities in performance are the result of the admissions process or of other factors," Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said.
However, the court ruled that before the bar association is required to hand over the data, the case must return to trial court to address the privacy concerns of releasing information it had promised students would be kept confidential.
“The Sander case originated from a request for access to information from the state bar’s admissions database, including applicants’ bar exam scores, law school attended, grade point averages and race or ethnicity,” the bar association announced in a press release regarding the court’s decision. “The bar opposed the release of the data, asserting it would violate promises it made to law students regarding privacy limited use of the records.”