Kyle Rozema Publishes Study on Affirmative Action Bans and Law School Diversity


Headshot of Kyle Rozema, professor of law

Kyle Rozema, Professor of Law and Co-Director of the JD/PhD Program and Academic Placement at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, has a new working paper titled “Affirmative Action and Racial Diversity in U.S. Law Schools, 1980-2021,” along with co-authors Richard R.W. Brooks, Professor at New York University Law School, and Sarath Sanga, Yale University Law School Professor. The study examines how racial diversity in U.S. law schools changes after affirmative action bans. Overall, racial diversity decreased by as much as 20% after the implementation of state-level affirmative action bans, with top-tier law schools experiencing the greatest decline at up to 35%. Black and Latino students accounted for nearly all of the decline.

The article is the first to document the effects of affirmative action on racial diversity in law schools. While the bulk of studies on affirmative action and racial diversity concentrate on undergraduate and medical schools, the authors highlight the importance of examining law schools specifically, emphasizing that “law schools present uniquely high stakes. Law schools are pipelines to elite leadership roles in government and private industry. Lawyers make up a tenth of CEOs, a third of state governors, more than a third of U.S. House members, more than half of U.S. senators, and almost all judges and prosecutors.” Through this lens, the authors consider the wide-reaching impacts of shrinking racial diversity in law schools.

The authors found that since 1980 racial diversity has “kept pace with the changing demographics of the United States, but it has not increased fast enough to catch up to the minority share of the population or of potential law school candidates.” After examining general trends in the racial diversity of law school student bodies, the authors then examined whether the trends were impacted by state-level bans on affirmative action. Since 1996, 22 law schools in 12 states have been subject to affirmative action bans (the bans only affect public law schools). Among those schools, affirmative action bans decreased the proportion of minority students by 20%, with even larger effects on top-tier schools such as University of California at Berkeley School of Law, the University of Michigan Law School, the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law and the University of Texas School of Law. 

Broken down by racial/ethnic category, the study found that affirmative action bans had the greatest impact on Black and Hispanic students, with no evidence of an effect for Asian American students. Black law student shares declined 18% overall and Hispanic law student shares declined by 48%, with the decline nearly doubling at tier 1 schools compared with lower-ranked schools.

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2023 decision prohibiting universities from considering race or ethnicity in admissions, it is still unclear how this national ban will affect the diversity of incoming law school classes. As the authors note, due to the unprecedented nature of the decision, “there are no historical examples from which to draw empirical inferences about this general equilibrium response.” Yet the data collected in the authors’ study provides potential answers through its examination of statewide bans on affirmative action and subsequent decrease in racial diversity. And as the authors remind the reader, this decline has consequences that go beyond the makeup of law school student bodies, affecting diversity in leadership roles across corporate, legal, and political institutions.

Kyle Rozema is a Professor of Law and Co-Director of the JD/PhD Program and Academic Placement at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. His primary research interest is in trying to understand how we can build legal institutions that are more diverse, more equal, and more responsive to the needs of the public. Prior to joining Northwestern Pritzker Law, Professor Rozema was an associate professor at Washington University School of Law and Wachtell Lipton Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School. He received his bachelor’s degree in engineering from Grand Valley State University, his JD from Washington University School of Law, and a PhD in economics from Cornell University.