SDNY Dismisses Challenge to NYU’s Law Review Membership Selection Process

June 6, 2024

By Seth F. Gilbertson

On May 30, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted New York University’s (NYU) motion to dismiss in a lawsuit[1] from a first-year law student claiming that NYU School of Law’s process for selecting students to serve as editors of its Law Review gives preference to women and minorities in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The complaint was dismissed without prejudice on two grounds: 1) lack of subject-matter jurisdiction; and 2) failure to state a claim. This lawsuit is the first legal challenge to a law review diversity policy following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College (SFFA), 600 U.S. 181 (2023), which struck down race-based admission processes at colleges and universities.

Factual Background

The complaint filed in October 2023 notes that prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in SFFA, the NYU Law Review would invite 50 students from the rising second-year class to join the academic journal as editors. Twelve of the 50 spots were filled by the Law Review’s Diversity Committee, which required applicants to submit personal statements and gave them the option to submit resumes. The Diversity Committee selected students in consideration of factors that included (but were not limited to) the applicant’s “race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, socio-economic background, ideological viewpoint, disability, and age.”

According to the plaintiff, a student identified as “John Doe,” NYU Law Review changed its website after the SFFA decision by removing any explicit reference to diversity in the membership-selection process, but it is clear “that ‘diversity’ remains a prime consideration in the selection of members.” Doe alleges that the Law Review currently requires applicants to submit a “statement of interest” for consideration by the academic journal’s Selection Committee and gives students the option to also submit a resume.

Doe claims that as a heterosexual white male, the application process will subject him to race and sex discrimination and deny him “an equal opportunity to compete for membership” when he applies for Law Review in the summer of 2024. Specifically, Doe asserts that the Law Review uses statements of interest and resumes to “give preferential treatment to women, non-Asian racial minorities, homosexuals, and transgender people when selecting its members.”

The Court’s Reasoning

First, U.S. District Judge Vernon S. Broderick determined that Doe lacked the necessary standing to bring his lawsuit. The court explained that Doe’s allegations concerning what information students may share with the Law Review in their applications or how that information may be used are speculative and cannot confer standing upon Doe. The court further stated that the complaint is “devoid of any factual support” for Doe’s arguments, as it “does not plead, in other than a conclusory way, how the Law Review is discriminating now or will discriminate in the future.” Doe’s failure to plead factual allegations of a discriminatory selection process implemented by the Law Review established no injury-in-fact, and therefore no basis for standing or the court’s exercise of subject-matter jurisdiction over the case.

Even if Doe had standing to bring his suit, the court held that the complaint would still be dismissed for failure to state a claim under Title VI and Title IX because Doe’s claim lacked “facts supporting his allegation that NYU is giving and intends to give preferential treatment to certain minority groups.” The court added that the Law Review’s commitment to diversity pre-SFFA, and even post-SFFA, is not unlawful:

"Considering the lack of any language in the selection policy demonstrating a preference for students of a protected class and the absence of any allegations supporting the inference that the selection policy would result in preferential treatment of such students, I cannot conclude that the Law Review’s continued commitment to diversity gives rise to a plausible inference of unlawful conduct."

In effect, this SDNY opinion reinforces the holding in the Supreme Court’s decision in SFFA to expressly acknowledge that universities may consider an individual’s lived experiences or socio-economic challenges in its admission processes, as long as it does not do so based on race or any other protected characteristic alone.

As of the date of this memo, it is unclear whether this case will be appealed to a higher court. Bond will continue to closely monitor this and related affirmative action cases for updates and bring them to you in a timely manner.

If you have any questions about the implications this case may have for your institution, please contact any attorney in Bond’s higher education practice or the attorney at the firm with whom you are in regular contact.

*Special thanks to Associate Trainee Camisha Parkins for her assistance in the preparation of this memo. Camisha is not yet admitted to practice law.

[1] John Doe v. New York University, 1:23CV10515-VSB-SN (S.D.N.Y. 2023).

Departments of Education and Justice Issue Guidance with Respect to Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard

August 15, 2023

By Philip J. Zaccheo

On Aug. 14, 2023, the Office for Civil Rights of the United States Department of Education and the United States Department of Justice issued joint guidance to institutions of higher education with respect to the Supreme Court's recent decision in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College. The guidance, in the form of a Dear Colleague Letter and a Q&A document, clarifies the Departments’ position as to practices that are and are not permissible in the wake of the decision, and encourages institutions’ continued use of lawful means to enroll and support a diverse student body. For example:

Read More >> Departments of Education and Justice Issue Guidance with Respect to Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard

November 3, 2023 Deadline for NCAA Division I DEI Self-Assessment and Attestation

July 19, 2023

By E. Katherine Hajjar, John G. Long, II, and Kristen J. Thorsness

As part of the NCAA’s efforts to promote diversity and gender equity in intercollegiate athletics, NCAA Bylaw requires that all Division I athletic departments perform a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) assessment and file an attestation of completion of the review with the NCAA by November 3, 2023.   

Read More >> November 3, 2023 Deadline for NCAA Division I DEI Self-Assessment and Attestation

OCR Issues New Fact Sheet on Diversity and Inclusion Activities Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

February 3, 2023

By Seth F. Gilbertson

On Jan. 31, 2023, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a new fact sheet interpreting Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in federally assisted programs and activities based upon race, color or national origin. OCR is charged with enforcement of Title VI in educational settings.[1]

Read More >> OCR Issues New Fact Sheet on Diversity and Inclusion Activities Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Yeshiva University Pride Alliance

June 29, 2022

On June 14, the New York State Supreme Court, New York County (a trial level court in New York State), ruled that Yeshiva University (YU) and its president must “immediately grant plaintiff YU Pride Alliance the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges afforded to all other student groups at Yeshiva University.”1

Read More >> Yeshiva University Pride Alliance

Department of Education Releases Proposed Changes to Title IX Regulations

June 24, 2022

By Seth F. Gilbertson, Laura H. Harshbarger, and Philip J. Zaccheo

Announcing it as a commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the enactment of Title IX (though anticipated for the past 18 months), the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) announced sweeping proposed amendments to the Title IX regulatory scheme that went into effect less than two years ago.

Read More >> Department of Education Releases Proposed Changes to Title IX Regulations

Implications for Colleges and Universities of Expanded Legal Protections for LGBTQ+ Students, Faculty and Staff

October 25, 2021

By Barbara A. Lee, Ph.D. and Megan L. Anderson, Lathrop GPM

In its Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia ruling in June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition on “sex” discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 encompasses discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The Bostock ruling raised, but did not decide, the question of whether or not other federal sex discrimination laws, such as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Fair Housing Act, might also inherently prohibit LGBTQ+ discrimination. While the Bostock ruling applies only to Title VII claims, the Biden administration has announced that federal agencies will apply Bostock’s definition of “sex” to other federal civil rights laws. On the day he was inaugurated, Jan. 20, 2021, President Biden issued an executive order stating that federal sex discrimination laws besides Title VII – including Title IX and the Fair Housing Act – should be interpreted as prohibiting gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination. Subsequently, in June 2021, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) issued guidance that Title IX prohibits LGBTQ+ discrimination. In addition, in February 2021, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that it would enforce the sex discrimination provisions of the Fair Housing Act as encompassing LGBTQ+ discrimination.

Read More >> Implications for Colleges and Universities of Expanded Legal Protections for LGBTQ+ Students, Faculty and Staff

U.S. Department of Education Reaffirms the Importance of Diversity Efforts Post- Schuette

May 6, 2014

By John Gaal

Iuniversity-building5n April, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, upholding Michigan’s State Constitutional Amendment prohibiting, among other things, any preferential treatment on the basis of race in the admissions process at Michigan’s public colleges and universities. Yesterday, the Department of Education responded to that decision by “confirming” that Schuette leaves intact the Supreme Court’s prior decisions recognizing that institutions may use all legally permissible methods to achieve diversity goals, noting that

[t]hese include, absent any restrictions in state law, appropriately tailored programs that consider the race of individual applicants as one of several factors in an individualized process to achieve the educational benefits that flow form a diverse student body.

This “Dear Colleague” letter also reaffirmed the continuing impact of the Department’s previously issued “Guidance on the Voluntary Use of Race to Achieve Diversity in Postsecondary Education” and its “Questions and Answers about Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.”  While clearly the Department is correct that, as a legal matter, the Court’s most recent decision does nothing to directly alter the legal landscape for private institutions when it comes to promoting diversity (if for no other reason than Schuette did not present that question to the Court), it begs the question whether this decision nonetheless brings the Court just one step closer to a significant change if the question does present itself for review again.