Affirmative action opponent drops case over law firm’s diversity fellowship

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – A group founded by a prominent anti-affirmative action activist on Wednesday dropped a lawsuit challenging a U.S. law firm’s fellowship program designed to help bolster diversity within its ranks after the firm changed its application criteria.

Edward Blum’s American Alliance for Equal Rights agreed to dismiss its case against Perkins Coie in Dallas federal court after the firm on Friday had said it would allow all law students to apply to the diversity fellowship program, not just members of “historically underrepresented” groups.

“There are many other law firms with similar racially discriminatory programs,” Blum said in a statement. “It is to be hoped that these firms proactively open their programs to all law students before they are sued in federal court.”

Seattle-founded Perkins Coie did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The global law firm with more than 1,200 lawyers was one of two that Blum’s non-profit sued in August alleging that their diversity fellowship programs unlawfully excluded certain people, including white students, based on their race.

The paid fellowships were designed in part to help support the recruitment of people of color, which major law firms have long struggled to add to their partnership ranks.

Last year, people of color comprised 11.4% of all partners in major U.S. law firms, according to the National Association for Law Placement.

The other law firm, Morrison & Foerster, similarly removed language specifying that its fellowship program was only open to Black, Hispanic, Native American or LGBT applicants, prompting Blum’s group to drop its lawsuit against that firm on Friday.

A different group founded by Blum in June won a landmark ruling at the U.S. Supreme Court, when the court’s 6-3 conservative majority rejected race-conscious policies long used by American colleges and universities to increase the number of Black, Hispanic and other minority students on American campuses in cases involving Harvard and the University of North Carolina.

In the lawsuit against Perkins Coie, Blum’s group took aim at a diversity fellowship the firm created in 1991 to support law students from “historically underrepresented” groups like people of color, LGBTQ+ community members and disabled students.

The lawsuit alleged the fellowship program violated a Civil War-era law enacted to protect formerly enslaved Black people that bars racial bias in contracting.

Blum’s group is relying on that same law to challenge venture capital firm Fearless Fund’s grant program for Black women-led businesses, which a federal appeals court in September blocked pending further litigation.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Bill Berkrot)