Somewhat surprisingly the Society of American Law Teachers study on minority matriculation to law school didn’t give data for all Hispanics. Instead, it focused on Mexican-Americans alone, concluding that their “representation” has “trended downward since 1993.” Most law schools target Hispanics as a group for affirmative action admissions, not Mexican-Americans alone. It could be that overall Hispanic matriculations have gone up, even if the Mexican-American figures have stayed constant or declined slightly (as the SALT study shows). According to Law School Admissions Council data (the same source SALT used), it turns out that the percentage of “Hispanic/Latino” students among matriculating law students has increased from 3.6% in 2000 to 5.1% in 2008, even as the percentage of “Mexican-American/Chicano” applicants has declined slightly from 1.7% to 1.4%. Unfortunately, the LSAC hasn’t posted data going back all the way to 1993 on its website, so we can’t look at the full period covered in the SALT study (1993-2008). But if the 2000-2008 figures are representative of the total period, this suggests that the percentage of Mexican-Americans has declined slightly in large part because law schools are hitting their targets for Hispanic admissions by taking more students from other Hispanic groups, such as Puerto Ricans, Cuban-Americans, and Dominicans.
Obviously, “Hispanic” is a somewhat arbitrary and socially constructed category. But the fact remains that it, not the Mexican-American subcategory, is the main focus of most relevant affirmative action programs. Mexican-Americans are far from the only group that is considered “Hispanic” as that term is used in both ordinary speech and law school admissions policies. And under either the compensatory justice or diversity rationales for AA, it is difficult to see why Mexican-Americans deserve greater consideration than other Hispanic groups.
UPDATE: In this January 2008 post, co-blogger David Bernstein cited LSAC data showing that matriculation by non-Mexican-American Hispanics went up substantially between 1992 and 2005. Unfortunately, that data no longer seems to be available at the LSAC website.
UPDATE #2: In the comments and in a recent post, David points out that Mexican-American matriculation numbers seem to be decreasing in large part because fewer are applying than back in 1993. That may well be so. However, the two theories are not mutually exclusive. Applications may have decreased in part because, at the margin, Mexican-American applicants face increasing competition from other Hispanic groups for affirmative action admission slots. As David points out, Mexican-American applicants may also have been disproportionately impacted by the end of admissions preferences in California state universities, a state where they constitute a particularly high percentage of the Hispanic population. The main point, however, is that it is misleading to consider Mexican-American admissions numbers in isolation from those of Hispanics as a whole.
UPDATE #3: Another relevant factor is that the SALT study nowhere explains the definition of “Mexican-American” they have been using. Presumably, it is based on the definition used in data from the Law School Admissions Council, which in turn relies on self-identification by law school applicants. It is entirely possible that, since 1993, more Mexican-Americans applicants have been self-identifying as generic “Hispanic/Latino” rather than “Mexican-American/Chicano” both of which appear to be options available on LSAC forms, judging by the data compiled on the LSAC website.
UPDATE #4: For some reasons, all links to the LSAC site go back to their main website, and I cannot figure out how to link to particular subpages. All I can do is point readers to their main site, which is here. The specific numbers I have been citing can be found by clicking the “data” icon on their front page, and going to “Matriculants by Ethnicity” from there (in the case of the first set of numbers I discuss), and “Ethnic/Gender Volume Summary” for the second. Sorry for the confusion, but I think it’s a problem with the LSAC website.