Most law journal articles get scant notice outside of their particular field. That was not the case at the Stanford Law Review this year. Quite the opposite; the journal generated a storm of controversy last November when it published “A Systemic Analysis of Affirmative Action in American Law Schools,” by UCLA School of Law professor Richard H. Sander.
Sander’s article purports to prove that instead of helping black law students get ahead, affirmative action hurts them. The article’s publication generated a heated debate that quickly moved beyond academic circles and into the public realm through such media outlets as The New York Times, Fox television, and NPR’s Morning Edition.
In March, a panel discussion on the topic was held at the law school, attracting an overflow crowd of students and faculty. The panel was sponsored by the Stanford Law Review, American Constitution Society, Asian and Pacific Islander Law Students Association, Black Law Students Association, Native American Law Students Association, and Stanford Latino Law Students Association.
The panel included two proponents of Sander’s thesis, Stuart Taylor, Jr., columnist for the National Journal, and Sander himself; and two critics, David Chambers, professor emeritus of law at the University of Michigan, and Rachel Moran, professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley’s Boalt Hall. The panel was moderated by R. Richard Banks (BA/MA ’87), professor of law and Justin M. Roach, Jr. Faculty Scholar. The two sides differed over the impact that affirmative action has had on black law students, as well as what impact ending affirmative action would have on blacks. Sanders estimates that ending affirmative action would increase the number of black lawyers produced annually by about 8 percent. Chambers and others say it would have a devastating effect on blacks by reducing the number of black lawyers produced by law schools between 30 and 40 percent annually. In his introduction to the panel discussion, Larry Kramer, Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean, said, “Stanford Law School and I remain committed to diversity in recruitment and admissions of the student body.” He pointed out that the Stanford Law Review is an independent, student-run organization, and that Sander’s article did not reflect the views of the law review or of the law school. Kramer praised the student organizations for sponsoring the panel. “We can learn much from the debate and from the differing perspectives on this topic that the Stanford Law Review will publish in future editions.” In its May issue the Stanford Law Review published a series of essays that responded to Sander’s article.