The 2021 National Lawyers Convention took place November 11-13, 2021 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC. The topic of the conference was "Public and Private Power: Preserving Freedom or Preventing Harm?" This panel discussed "ABA Law School Accreditation Standards."
For many years, the U.S. Department of Education has recognized the Council of the American Bar Association Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar as the accrediting organization for law schools. The importance of that function cannot be overstated. For nearly every state, a J.D. degree from an ABA-accredited law school is required to practice law. To become accredited, a law school must comply with the standards contained in the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools. In May 2021, the Council of the ABA Section proposed a set of accreditation standards that, among other things, would require law schools to "take effective actions that, in their totality, demonstrate progress in (1) Diversifying the students, faculty, and staff; and (2) Creating an inclusive and equitable environment for students, faculty, and staff." An interpretation of that provision stated, "The requirement of a constitutional provision that purports to prohibit consideration of race, color, ethnicity, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, disability, or military status in admissions or employment decisions is not a justification for a school’s non-compliance." The school would have to show "effective actions and progress . . . by means other than those prohibited by the applicable constitutional or statutory provisions." In addition, law schools must "provide training and education to law students on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism: (1) at the start of the program of legal education, and (2) at least once again before graduation." The Council has since withdrawn the proposal for further study, but it may reappear.
Our panel of experts will discuss the degree to which the ABA’s proposed new policy represented a change from its prior practice; if it was a change, how it came about, including any arguments for or against it; whether it is justified and consistent with the accrediting role; and, if it is not, what steps, if any, might be appropriate to take.
Hon. Scott Bales, Former Chief Justice, Arizona Supreme Court
Prof. John McGinnis, George C. Dix Professor in Constitutional Law, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law
Prof. Thomas D. Morgan, Oppenheim Professor Emeritus of Antitrust and Trade Regulation Law, George Washington University Law School
Mr. Daniel R. Thies, Shareholder, Webber & Thies, P.C.
Moderator: Hon. Gregory Katsas, U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit