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Conservative think tank argues end of affirmative action extends beyond admissions

Gavel outside Ohio Supreme Court
Dan Konik

Ohio schools and post-graduate programs are still working to navigate the legal fallout of affirmative action being rendered federally unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Buckeye Institute, a conservative think tank in Columbus, said in March it had sent letters to and filed records requests with law schools, firms, and bar associations regarding race-based financial awards and programs—including those placing law students from minority communities at professional legal practices over the summer.

David Tryon, the Buckeye Institute’s director of litigation, said he sees the minority clerk programs in cities like Cleveland and Columbus in clear violation of the recent decision and feels they should be adjusted or axed.

“I think they need to do so quickly to avoid liability,” Tryon said in a recent interview. “And I think there is some resistance to changing, but I think that most legal advisers are advising their clients to make changes.”

The landmark federal case Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard largely struck down affirmative action in higher education last June. The six conservative justices ruled that universities and colleges nationwide could no longer consider race as part of their application and admissions processes because it violates the Fourteenth Amendment.

But the ruling didn't directly outlaw race-based financial awards, according to a spokesperson for Attorney General Dave Yost's office. It dealt largely with admissions.

The Cleveland Metro Bar Association said it feels the programs it offers don’t break the law.

“While we are still evaluating the letter’s contents, I can say without equivocation the CMBA stands firmly on our core value of conscious inclusion,” spokesperson wrote in an email statement.

In the majority ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it.”

Both Yost and Tryon have cited that sentence as reason for why the ruling extends beyond admissions to awards or intern and extern roles.

“It's not a narrow holding, it's a broad holding,” Tryon said.

Yost told public university leaders in January he sees race as unconstitutional criteria for scholarship awards, nearly eight months after the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

According to university spokespeople, scholarships are under review at Ohio University, Ohio State University, Kent State University, Cleveland State University, the University of Akron, and Youngstown State University. Some faculty and donors have voiced concerns, arguing the guidance was politically—not legally—motivated and it could chill future donations.

Sarah Donaldson covers government, policy, politics and elections for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. Contact her at
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