WI State Bar Reaches Partial Settlement in Diversity Lawsuit

By  - 

The State Bar of Wisconsin agreed to change the definition of ‘diversity’ in its language for a program designated for underrepresented law students following a lawsuit by a conservative-backed organization. 

In December, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) filed a federal lawsuit against the State Bar of Wisconsin, alleging the Diversity Clerkship Program unconstitutionally discriminates against some students based on race. The program is designated for “students with backgrounds that have been historically excluded from the legal field,” according to the program website.

The clerkship initiative is a 10-week paid summer employment opportunity where first-year Marquette University Law School and University of Wisconsin Law School students are matched with employers from a variety of law firms, departments, and agencies. 

According to the partial settlement and release, the bar agreed to “make clear that the Diversity Clerkship Program is open to all first-year law students.” Originally, the definition of diversity included concepts like race, ethnicity, gender identity, and other factors, and the new definition includes “people with differing characteristics, beliefs, experiences, interests, and viewpoints.”

The State Bar said the program would continue unchanged under the settlement, however, WILL also claimed a victory in a statement. The nonprofit conservative law firm said “mandatory and annual State Bar dues will not fund internships and policies primarily based on race, but rather on merit and diversity of viewpoint.”

The lawsuit joins a variety of other legal actions across the country targeting diversity, equity, and inclusion-focused programs and scholarships in the private sector since the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in college admissions.