In a significant legal development, the State Bar of Wisconsin has agreed to redefine its interpretation of “diversity” following a settlement in a federal lawsuit. The lawsuit, initiated by the conservative legal organization Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), challenged the State Bar’s internship program, alleging it engaged in racial discrimination and thus contravened constitutional norms.

Despite the settlement, the State Bar has announced that its “diversity clerkship program” will continue without structural changes. However, the definition of diversity it utilizes will be broadened to encompass a wider range of characteristics beyond the traditional markers such as race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, and disability.

Previously, the program’s definition explicitly included considerations of race, ethnicity, and gender identity. Under the new terms agreed upon with WILL, these specific categories will not be directly mentioned. This move is part of a larger push by WILL to divert State Bar dues away from racially focused programs towards initiatives that promote diversity of thought and merit.

This legal battle aligns with a series of nationwide lawsuits targeting governmental and private sector initiatives on diversity, equity, and inclusion. These legal actions have gained momentum following a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down the use of racial considerations in college admissions, effectively ending affirmative action.

The revised definition of diversity now emphasizes the inclusion of individuals with varied traits, perspectives, interests, and life experiences. Additionally, the settlement mandates that the Bar must clearly specify in all program-related materials that racial factors are not considered in the selection process for participants.

The agreement also outlines that the Bar cannot exclusively limit participation to law students from underrepresented groups, those historically discriminated against in the legal profession, or those who have faced societal disadvantages.

The clerkship program, which traditionally aimed to foster racial diversity within the legal community across government, private sector, and law firms, has, according to the lawsuit, strayed from its original objectives. Nonetheless, the program, hosted by Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has supported approximately 600 internships over the past three decades, as stated by the bar association.

This redefinition marks a critical pivot in how diversity initiatives are framed and implemented within the legal community in Wisconsin, reflecting broader national debates and legal challenges regarding diversity policies.