By Bryan Mena, CNN
Washington, DC (CNN) — The conservative activist behind the Supreme Court case that struck down affirmative action in college admissions this year is suing two international law firms for providing diversity fellowships.
The two lawsuits filed by the American Alliance for Equal Rights this week against law firms Perkins Coie and Morrison & Foerster allege that the diversity fellowships they offer “are expressly refusing to contract with certain applicants based on their race and ethnicity,” according to a statement from the group. The lawsuits were filed in federal court in Dallas and Miami.
Perkins Coie offers diversity fellowships that awards summer associates from underrepresented communities a $15,000 stipend and another $10,000 if they join the firm. Morrison & Foerster, offers similar programs, including a diversity training initiative.
“As a firm, we have been a leader in efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal profession. Our commitment to those values remains steadfast,” a representative of Perkins Coie said in a statement to CNN. “We will defend this lawsuit vigorously.”
Morrison & Foerster did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Corporate diversity programs have come under fire lately from conservative politicians and activists. But companies have maintained their support for inclusion initiatives. Filing briefs with the Supreme Court during its affirmative action case, more than 60 companies, including Apple, Google, Starbucks and Procter & Gamble, backed upholding affirmative action in colleges and universities and raised concerns that a lack of diversity in colleges could hurt efforts to diversify the workplace. Some professional associations, including the American Medical Association, also backed affirmative action.
The legal field is among the least diverse professions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last year, 9% of legal workers were Black, 5% Asian and 11% Hispanic or Latino. In contrast, 84% were White. That means minorities are underrepresented: Last year, 13.6% of Americans identified as Black, 19.1% as Hispanic or Latino and 6.3% as Asian, according to the Census Bureau. Meanwhile, 75.5% identified as White alone, and 58.9% said they were White alone and not Hispanic or Latino.
The American Alliance for Equal Rights is overseen by Edward Blum, the 71-year-old conservative legal strategist who works as a financial adviser and has sought to challenge racial preferences through litigation for decades. He was the driving force behind the twin Supreme Court cases filed against Harvard College and the University of North Carolina that challenged their consideration of race in college admissions. In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court found it unconstitutional for colleges to consider race when evaluating applicants, dealing a major blow to attempts from colleges to diversify their student bodies.
But Blum hasn’t been the only one waging war against diversity and inclusion efforts.
Legal activists filed a lawsuit against Starbucks this year, seeking to unwind the coffee chain’s corporate diversity policies. A federal court in Spokane, Washington dismissed that lawsuit filed by the National Center for Public Policy Research earlier this month.
Conservative activist group America First Legal Foundation, overseen by former Trump administration speech writer Stephen Miller, sued Amazon on behalf of a Texas woman alleging that the company discriminates against white entrepreneurs seeking start-up grants. The group has also sued Target for allegedly destroying shareholder value through its Pride-themed clothing, and it has sued Kellogg for diversity programs.
In colleges, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs have come under greater scrutiny this year from right-wing activists and politicians, who have decried DEI as “indoctrination” and “reverse racism.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill banning public colleges and universities from spending money on DEI initiatives in May, and some college boards have voted to dissolve DEI offices entirely.
Yet studies have shown that DEI programs and initiatives have demonstrated cultural and economic benefits. A recent paper printed in the Journal of Education policy showed that DEI initiatives help to address societal inequities and promote cultural awareness.
Affirmative action and diversity program advocates fear that conservative action against those programs could block career opportunities for people of color.
– CNN’s Chandelis Duster contributed to this report