Illinois attorney Andrew Straw (left), who is disabled and practices disability law, argued that the lack of available information about the number of disabled students enrolled at each ABA-accredited law school impeded his ability to choose a school with a good track record of admitting disabled students. He told the court that he wants to enroll in a doctoral program to study disability discrimination in law school admissions.
Judge Thomas Durkin of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled on Wednesday that Straw lacked standing to sue because he had not suffered an “injury in fact,” as the law requires.
“Straw’s failure to allege that he has actually attempted to apply to Ph.D. programs and been denied admission, or been admitted and denied the opportunity to study discrimination, makes this allegation of harm conjectural and hypothetical, not imminent,” Durkin wrote.
Even had Straw been denied the chance to study discrimination in law school admissions, he cannot allege that the ABA’s failure to collect data on the enrollment of disabled students caused that harm, Durkin found.
Reached Friday, Straw said he did not plan to appeal because he does not trust the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to reach the proper conclusion in disability cases.
“This case was about clearing the way for more disabled law students and attorneys,” Straw said. “The ABA up to 2015 has been helping the law schools hide their disability discrimination by not reporting the number of disabled law students in incoming law classes.”
Mandatory reporting of the number of women and minorities enrolled at law schools has helped inform prospective students about which schools are improving student diversity and which are not, he said.
A spokesman for the ABA declined to comment on the decision.
Straw has bipolar disorder and suffers from injuries sustained in a car accident and in 2013 founded the Disability Party to advocate for people with disabilities, according to a 2014 profile that appeared on the ABA Commission on Disability Rights webpage.
According to his initial complaint, Straw approached the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and requested that it include disability information on its Standard 509 form—a document law schools are required to release each year disclosing data including class size, student and faculty diversity, tuition and median Law School Admission Test scores. The ABA refused his request, his complaint said.
Straw sued in July 2014 seeking an injunction to force the ABA to collect disability figures. In addition to the ABA, Straw named as defendants the top 50 law schools in the country as determined by U.S. News & World Report. He argued that the individual law schools were discriminating by failing to supply information prospective students need to make informed choices. He voluntarily dismissed the individual schools from the suit after several filed motions to dismiss.
Durkin found other problems with Straw’s lawsuit, including that he failed to state a claim under the ADA.
“Straw asks the court to force the bar association to provide a certain service that Straw alleges would be helpful to him as a person with disabilities,” Durkin wrote. “Contrary to Straw’s argument, however, the ADA does not consider the bar association’s failure to accommodate Straw’s request to be discriminatory.”
Straw said the decision was a blow to disabled people aspiring to join the legal profession.
“Every disabled American is affected by the erroneous and biased decision of Judge Durkin,” he said. “Every disabled American will benefit from having more disabled lawyers and judges who understand their needs, their issues.”