The University of Wisconsin Law School admitted a much higher proportion of blacks than whites and Asians with the same or higher academic credentials in 2005 and 2006, according to a study by the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank based in Virginia that focuses on race and ethnicity.

The center analyzed Wisconsin’s law school admission data from 2005 and 2006, as well as undergraduate admissions data from 2007 and 2008.

“The studies show that literally hundreds of students applying as undergrads or to the law school are rejected in favor of students with lower test scores and grades, and the reason is that they have the wrong skin color or their parents came from the wrong countries,” said center chairwoman Linda Chavez.

Margaret Raymond, the law school’s dean, wrote in a letter to students that race is one of many factors that admissions officials consider, and that the school benefits from a diverse student body.

“For the classroom experience at UW to reflect the range of knowledge, experiences, attitudes and aspirations of the world at large, it is necessary to look at everything about a candidate, ranging from veteran status to foreign travel experience to volunteer activities, and everything in between,” she wrote. “We do take into account race and ethnicity, and the life experiences those characteristics may denote.”

The two reports were released during the same week that affirmative action opponents were expected to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a challenge to the constitutionality of the University of Texas’ affirmative action admissions policy. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in June declined to rehear that case after upholding the policy in January.

Fisher v. the University of Texas is the first federal case challenging university affirmative action policies since U.S. Supreme Court upheld the University of Michigan’s race-conscious admissions process in Grutter v. Bollinger in 2003. In Grutter, the court ruled that race could be considered during the admissions process as long as it is one of many factors. The center has joined an amicus brief challenging the Texas admissions process.

Law school admissions have been a focus for the center for years; it has alleged that admissions officers show preference for blacks and Hispanics at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law; Arizona State Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law; the University of Nebraska College of Law; The University of Virginia School of Law; and the College of William and Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law.

This alleged admissions preference at law schools has done little to counteract the overall lack of diversity in the legal profession. Blacks, Asians and Hispanics account for about 12% of attorneys, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Legal organizations have been pushing hard for increased diversity on law school campuses for more than a decade in the hope that a larger pool of minority students would help to correct the profession’s racial imbalance.

According to the University of Wisconsin Law School’s Web site, it has been a leader in the diversity movement.

“The best evidence of the UW Law School’s commitment to diversity comes from the more than one thousand students of color who have graduated from the Law School — a proud group of prominent alumni who are increasingly active in their service to the Law School and its students,” it reads. “Students of color comprise more than 25 percent of our student body.”

Raymond wrote that “we are confident that our admissions practices continue to serve the goal of creating a well-rounded education that meets the needs of our students and the profession.”

The center’s analysis was based on data provided by the University of Wisconsin. The university initially denied the center’s request for the data, citing student privacy concerns, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2002 ordered the data released.

The center collected data on each individual’s admission and matriculation status, plus his or her race, sex, LSAT scores and grade point averages. The center considered whether prospective students lived in or out-of-state during the 2005 and 2006 application cycles.

It concluded that in 2006, the law school admitted 43% of black applicants, 39% of Hispanic applicants, 18% of Asian applicants and 24% of white applicants. That same year, black and Hispanic applicants had lower median LSAT scores and GPAs than did white applicants, the report said.

“For law school admissions, the racial discrimination found was also severe, with the weight given to ethnicity much greater than given to, for example, Wisconsin residency,” the center said in a formal statement. “Thus, an out-of-state black applicant with grades and LSAT scores at the median for that group would have had a 7 out 10 chance of admission and an out-of-state Hispanic a 1 out of 3 chance — but an in-state Asian with those grades and scores had a 1 out of 6 chance and an in-state white only a 1 out of 10 chance.”

Karen Sloan can be contacted at ksloan@alm.com.