Wisconsin State Bar Sued Over Controversial Internship DEI Program

On Wednesday, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) filed a lawsuit against the State Bar of Wisconsin, citing concerns over the bar’s “Diversity Clerkship Program.” Attorney Daniel Suhr is the lead plaintiff in the case that alleges that the program’s selective criteria based on race and other protected traits infringe upon the constitutional rights of all Wisconsin attorneys.

The heart of the controversy lies in the program’s focus on providing internships to students from groups the state says have been historically excluded from the legal field. While the intent might be to foster diversity, the complaint filed in the case contends that such exclusivity inevitably leads to a form of reverse discrimination that directly undermines true equality and meritocracy.

WILL attorney Skylar Croy said this week that government-endorsed discrimination, regardless of intent, ultimately creates many more problems than it could hope to solve. “When the government discriminates based on race, it sows more division in our country and violates the Constitution in the process,” Croy stated.

Suhr alleges that the exclusive nature of the program removes essential competition for prestigious positions and contradicts the basic concept of equal opportunity. “Internships are competitive — as they should be. But when one group is given preferential treatment over the other to apply for these programs, the programs lose competitiveness and hurt all Americans,” Suhr said.

The lawsuit bases its legal arguments on recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, particularly the landmark case Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. Harvard, which found race-based admissions unconstitutional. The Wisconsin case is part of a recent uptick in cases challenging race-based preferences based on the Harvard case.

The new lawsuit also raises issues about the use of mandatory dues collected from members of the Wisconsin State Bar to fund the program. The complaint alleges that the plaintiff will introduce evidence at trial that many state bar members fundamentally disagree with being compelled to pay for a program that violates the rights of free speech and free association.
Since its implementation, the Diversity Clerkship Program has been involved in the creation of around 600 clerkships over three decades.

The Wisconsin case raises fundamental questions about how best to achieve a truly diverse and inclusive professional environment without infringing on the rights and beliefs of individuals. The outcome of this lawsuit could have far-reaching implications, not just for the legal profession in Wisconsin but for similar programs nationwide, marking a pivotal moment in the ongoing debate over diversity policies in the professional world.