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Verdicts & Settlements

State Bar of Wisconsin Settles Lawsuit, Agrees to Provide New Definition of “Diversity”

— April 4, 2024

A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Bar Association emphasized that, despite the settlement, its “Diversity Clerkship Program” will continue running.

The State Bar of Wisconsin has agreed to settle a lawsuit challenging its definition of “diversity,” which conservative attorneys claim gave racial minorities an unfair and unconstitutional advantage when applying for competitive internships.

According to CBS News, under the terms of the proposed agreement, the State Bar of Wisconsin will continue sponsoring its “diversity clerkship program,” but will consider and weigh factors other than race in its decision-making.

“The settlement clarifies the definition of ‘diversity’ but makes no changes to the program,” Wisconsin Bar Association Executive Director Larry Martin said in a statement. “The Diversity Clerkship Program, which has been creating opportunities for Wisconsin-based students for three decades, will continue to exist and to operate in its current form.”

The diversity program, adds Reuters, offers recipients 10-week internships at different law firms, legal departments, and government agencies across the state. Each year, between 20 and 25 first-year law students are selected.

In the past, program administrators defined diversity as “an inclusive concept that encompasses, among other things, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, age sexual orientation and disability.” But, under the terms of the settlement, the State Bar of Wisconsin will simply its definition of diversity to include “people with differing characteristics, beliefs, experiences, interests, and viewpoints.”

Scales of Justice. Image via Flickr/user:mikecogh. (CCA-BY-2.0).

The bar association’s website had previously specified that the program is intended for University of Wisconsin and Marquette University law students “with backgrounds that have been historically excluded from the legal field.”

However, attorneys for the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty alleged that the bar was effectively coercing its members into funding a “DEI” initiative through the payment of annual membership fees—fees which are mandatory for all lawyers licensed to practice within the state.

[CBS News notes that the State Bar of Wisconsin, a mandatory professional association created by the state supreme court, currently has about 25,000 members.]

In a statement, the Institute for Law and Liberty posited the agreement as a victory, saying that “mandatory and annual State Bar dues will not fund internships and policies primarily based on race, but rather on merit and diversity of viewpoint.”

Skylar Croy, associate counsel for the organization, said that “defeating unconstitutional DEI programs” has become the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty’s area of expertise.

“While we are pleased with this victory, we know the fight is far from over,” Croy said. “In fact, this is only the beginning of a movement, and our lawsuit will provide a roadmap for future victories in all 50 states.”


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