Judge hears suit over LSAT discrimination

By Steve Thorpe

Legal News

U.S. District Court Judge Denise Page Hood heard arguments last Thursday in a disability case that may have far-reaching implications for disability law. Plaintiff Angelo Binno, 28, blind since birth, alleges that law schools in Michigan are basing admissions on a test that he says discriminates against blind applicants. The suit alleges that visually impaired students face considerable difficulties with the visually oriented parts of the exam and that the American Bar Association makes it difficult for schools to pursue alternatives. After listening to the arguments, Hood said she would issue a written opinion.

Attorney Richard Bernstein filed the lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan Southern Division on May 24, 2011, seeking an end to what he called the ABA's failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

David R. Deromedi of Dickinson Wright argued for the ABA that law schools have full discretion to weigh results and can use alternate tests in their admissions processes.

The Chicago-based ABA also argues that the problem is not with their organization, but the makers of the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and that they fully support alternates to the test.

Bernstein says that this contention is "disingenuous" because of the extreme difficulty of creating a test for an individual student during the limited time of an enrollment cycle.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed an amicus brief on Nov. 2 and Assistant Attorney General Brian Neill was present in court, urging discovery in the case. In the brief, Schuette said "Discovery will assist in assessing the factual support for Mr. Binno's allegations and whether intervention by the Attorney General is necessary."

Much of the argument hinged on the definition of "offeror," with Bernstein arguing that the ABA fits the definition because of their powerful influence over the admissions process. The ABA counters that it accepts "valid and reliable" alternative tests in the admissions process.

Binno has twice done poorly on the section of the LSAT that requires perceiving spatial relationships and drawing diagrams. He has been denied admittance to the U of D-Mercy Law School three times and to the WSU Law School and Thomas Cooley Law School. He says he can excel at a top ranking law school in Michigan -- if he could only get admitted.

Bernstein is blind, but says he received a waiver to enter Northwestern Law School 15 years ago. Shortly thereafter, the ABA revised its standards and, Bernstein claims, threatened to penalize schools that gave too many waivers or did not use the LSAT.

"There's no way to tell how broad or narrow the judge's ruling might be, other than the significant amount of time the court allowed for argument," Bernstein said. "There's no doubt the court is taking this very seriously."

He said the case might take years to make its way through the courts.

Published: Tue, Dec 20, 2011


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