A Wisconsin lawyer sued the state bar Wednesday over a diversity clerkship program that allegedly limits eligibility to students who are minorities or who identify as LGBT.
Attorney Daniel Suhr, backed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, filed the lawsuit because he objects to his bar membership dues being used to fund an “unconstitutional program” that selects participants based on protected traits like race. The “Diversity Clerkship Program,” which has offered paid internships to nearly 600 students, is restricted only to students “with backgrounds that have been historically excluded from the legal field,” according to its website.
“The program discriminates against law students based on unlawful classifications, thereby violating those students’ rights secured by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” the lawsuit alleges. “Plaintiff cannot be compelled to support an unconstitutional program.”
Suhr pointed to the Supreme Court’s June decision striking down racial preferences in college admissions, telling the Daily Caller News Foundation that “affirmative action for an internship program is just as unconstitutional as affirmative action in student admissions.” While the State Bar of Wisconsin doesn’t provide members a breakdown of how funds are spent, Suhr said there “at least tens of thousands of dollars” in member dues being spent on the program.
The program’s selection committee scores “some law students higher because of unlawful classifications,” the complaint alleges. It also states that some participating employers preference students “based on protected traits.”
“In a video posted on YouTube by the Bar, the Honorable Carl Ashley, a state circuit court judge who has promoted the program on behalf of the Bar, even conceded that it was probably illegal,” the lawsuit notes.
Suhr told the DCNF that even among the students who come from minority racial backgrounds, the bar prioritizes students who share its “ideological vision for race in American society over students from minority backgrounds who just want to work hard and get good career experience.”
“As lawyers, we should be the ones at the forefront of modeling respect for the Constitution of the rule of law,” Suhr told the DCNF. “And instead, the question the bar is asking is, ‘How much can we get away with here?’”
“When the bar association — of all organizations — undertakes programs that undermine those values, that are in blatant disregard of people’s 1st and 14th Amendment rights, I think it really strikes at something deep for us as a profession,” he said.
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