CUNY Law School Removes Criminal History Question From its Admissions Application

By Susan DeSantis

CUNY Law School Removes Criminal History Question From its Admissions Application

5.18.2022

By Susan DeSantis

NYSBA Task Force Reviews Uniform Bar Exam

CUNY Law School announced today that it was removing a question about criminal history from its admissions application, becoming the second law school in New York to do so after the University at Buffalo School of Law.

“A lot of people are talking about this issue right now. CUNY Law did more than talk about it. It was really exciting to be here the day they took action,” said Colby Williams, a member of CUNY Law’s Formerly Incarcerated Advocacy Association and one of the students who fought for the change.

The school’s press release credits the New York State Bar Association for its advocacy to remove a similar question from the bar admissions application. On Jan. 22, NYSBA’s House of Delegates approved a report from the Working Group on Question 26 of the New York Bar Exam, which called the bar admissions question illegal.

“The question has driven away untold Black and Latino students who are subjected to the scrutiny of law enforcement to an extent unimaginable to their white counterparts,” said T. Andrew Brown, president of the association. “We as an association came together at the House of Delegates meeting in January to call for a complete rethinking of the question. Now, it is time for the New York State Unified Court System to remove the question from the bar application.”

The bar admissions question violates two state laws, the New York State Human Rights Law and the Family Court Act, the association said in its press release.

The legal profession routinely ranks as one of the least diverse in the country. Recent American Bar Association surveys found only 5 percent of lawyers identify as Black and 5 percent as Latino. Meanwhile, while Blacks make up 15 percent of New York’s population, they account for 38 percent of arrests, according to the latest data compiled from the Judicial Friends Report on Systemic Racism in New York Courts.

The report approved by the House of Delegates recommends rewording the question to make clear that sealed criminal records, juvenile delinquency and youthful offender proceedings, dismissed cases and arrests that are no longer pending that did not result in a conviction do not have to be disclosed.

Question 26 reads: “Have you ever, either as an adult or a juvenile, been cited, ticketed, arrested, taken into custody, charged with, indicted, convicted or tried for, or pleaded guilty to, the commission of any felony or misdemeanor or the violation of any law, or been the subject of any juvenile delinquency or youthful offender proceeding?”

NYSBA is asking that Question 26 be revised to conform with the Human Rights Law and the Family Court Act and that all other questions make clear that applicants do not have to disclose conduct protected by the two laws.

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