“Internships are competitive—as they should be,” Surh said in a statement. “But when one group is given preferential treatment over the other to apply for these programs, the programs lose competitiveness and hurt all Americans.”
A conservative advocacy organization has filed a lawsuit against the State Bar of Wisconsin, claiming that its diversity fellowship program for law students is an unconstitutional use of membership dues.
According to Reuters, the complaint was filed earlier this week by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty. It lists a single plaintiff, Daniel Suhr, a licensed attorney who claims that the state bar has no right to use his membership dues to fund diversity initiatives.
In Wisconsin, as in most states, practicing attorneys are required to maintain a bar membership and pay regular dues. Suhr claims that, by forcing him to support a practice that he suggests is illegal or unethical, the Wisconsin State Bar has violated his First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution by compelling speech or expression that contradict his beliefs.
The State Bar of Wisconsin has since said that it will “vigorously defend” its diversity program.
“Neither race nor ethnicity is an eligibility factor for purposes of participation,” said bar executive director Larry Martin.
On its website, the State Bar of Wisconsin notes that the diversity fellowship is open to all first-year students at Marquette University Law School and the University of Wisconsin Law School. Applicants must demonstrate a “commitment to diversity” and have a record of exceptional academic achievement. Selected fellows are awarded a 10-week paid summer position at participating law firms, corporate legal departments, and government agencies.
However, Suhr’s complaint observes that the State Bar recently modified its program criteria to include more race-neutral language, which invites all applicants “with backgrounds that have been historically excluded from the legal field.”
Suhr contends that this modification does not make the program legal.
“The program was founded with an intent to discriminate based on race, and that intent continues to shape and govern the program today, as is evident from the program enrollment,” the lawsuit alleges.
The complaint asks the court to prevent the Wisconsin bar from “implementing the program in a manner that violates the rights of law students.”
The Wisconsin State Bar notes that, since its inception, the diversity program has created about 600 internships over the course of the past 30 years.
“Internships are competitive—as they should be,” Suhr said in a statement. “But when one group is given preferential treatment over the other to apply for these programs, the programs lose competitiveness and hurt all Americans.”
“The State Bar should do better and expand these opportunities to all Wisconsin law students,” Suhr said.