Law Schools

Law school opposing bar-passage rate disclosure gets free speech 'smackdown'

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A federal judge has released a tentative order tossing a lawsuit by a California law school that challenged bar-passage disclosure requirements as compelled speech that violated the First Amendment.

The tentative order by U.S. District Judge James Selna of Santa Ana is a “First Amendment smackdown” of the suit by the Southern California Institute of Law, Above the Law reports. The law school had challenged a requirement that California-accredited law schools post recent bar passage rates for grads who took the 10 most recent tests, or post a link to such passage rates.

A hearing on the motion to dismiss is scheduled for today, according to Pacer documents.

The school claims it is being forced to publish a government message with which it disagrees, violating its free speech rights. The school says it disagrees with the “ideological belief that a law school should be judged by the passage rates of its graduates.”

None of the school’s 43 graduates who took the 2012 California bar exam passed, according to prior coverage of the suit by the Wall Street Journal Law Blog (sub. req.). The school’s lawyer, George Shohet, said about a quarter of the school’s grads ultimately pass the exam.

According to Selna’s tentative order, the burden on free speech is de minimis and the requirement is reasonably related to the state bar’s interest in protecting prospective students. The required information is factual and noncontroversial, Selna says in the tentative order, and students may draw their own conclusions about its relevance. He also points out that the law school can supplement the disclosure or argue that bar passage rates should be irrelevant to students’ choices.

Updated at 9:25 a.m. to add hearing information and to correctly state that the school disagrees with the ideological belief that schools should be judged by bar passage rates.

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