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State Bar reaches partial settlement in lawsuit targeting diversity program

Conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty will drop claims that program unconstitutionally discriminates based on race, bar agrees to change definition of 'diversity'

A Dane County courtroom as seen from the witness stand
A Dane County courtroom. Michelle Johnson/WPR

The State Bar of Wisconsin will change its definition of “diversity” for a paid summer clerkship program for law students under a partial settlement of a lawsuit challenging how the organization spends mandatory dues paid by attorneys. 

The federal lawsuit was filed by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty in December. It alleged the state bar’s Diversity Clerkship Program unconstitutionally discriminates against some students based on race. It also claimed the bar violates the free speech and free association rights of attorneys who object to their dues being used for the program. 

Under a partial settlement, the bar agrees to “make clear that the Diversity Clerkship Program is open to all first-year laws students” by September. Currently, the program’s website states that the program is open to “students with backgrounds that have been historically excluded from the legal field.” 

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In exchange, WILL will drop its claims about the clerkship program and file an amended lawsuit challenging the mandatory dues and how they’re spent. 

In a statement, Wisconsin Bar Association Executive Director Larry Martin said while the organization will change it’s definition of diversity it will not make any changes to the program. 

“The Diversity Clerkship Program, which has been creating opportunities for Wisconsin-based law students for three decades, will continue to exist and to operate in its current form,” Martin said. 

A statement from WILL Associate Counsel Skylar Croy said defeating “unconstitutional DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) programs” has become the firm’s area of expertise.

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

The lawsuit is one of several legal challenges targeting DEI programs in private and public sectors around the country that were filed after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in college admissions in June.