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Entrenched Racial Hierarchy: Educational Inequality from the Cradle to the LSAT

By Kevin Woodson. Full Text.

For my contribution to this special issue of the Minnesota Law Review, I will attempt to situate the problem of black underrepresentation at America’s law schools within the broader context of racial hierarchy in American society. The former has generated an extensive body of legal scholarship and commentary, centering primarily on the racial impact of law schools’ admissions criteria and procedures, particularly the substantial weight placed upon the Law School Admissions Test (“LSAT”). This focus is understandable: given the substantial racial disparities in LSAT performance and the test’s relatively limited value in predicting academic and professional outcomes, it makes sense that efforts to increase black representation in law school would start here.

But in focusing primarily on the inequities of law school admissions, the existing discourse to some extent has unduly isolated the issue of black law school underrepresentation from the broader context of American racial inequality. The law school admissions process is but the final stage in a long chain of events that determines whether an individual becomes a law student. The vast majority of black students effectively are prevented from attending law school by conditions that they encounter before they even apply.

Accordingly, in this article I offer a broader account of the underrepresentation of black law students, one that focuses on the conditions of entrenched racial hierarchy that impede black Americans’ educational trajectories and limit their mobility into high-status occupations, including the practice of law.