Bar Associations

19 state AGs fire back after others demand ABA diversity standards change

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The ABA logo on ABA headquarters in Chicago

The ABA headquarters in Chicago. (Photo by John O'Brien/ABA Journal)

Nineteen state attorneys general signed a letter calling on the American Bar Association, Fortune 100 CEOs and other organizations to retain “their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul sent the letter to “reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that diversity, equity, and inclusion programs continue to effectively address discrimination throughout the private and philanthropic sector.”

Co-signers are the attorneys general from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D.C.

“We also write to respond to coordinated attempts to contort the law and invalidate programs aimed at eliminating and preventing racial inequities,” the June 20 letter states.

AP Kwame Raoul_400px Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul answers a question during an interview Nov. 15, 2023, in Boston. (Photo by Charles Krupa/The Associated Press)

The letter is in response to one earlier this month from 21 other state attorneys general urging the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar to eliminate race-based criteria from its accreditation process.

Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti wrote the earlier letter asking to change a law school accreditation standard that encourages diversity in admissions and hiring, stating it cannot be squared with last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, which ruled against affirmative action policies.

That letter was co-signed by attorneys general from Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

The ABA Council is revising the current Standard 206.

“It is premature to discuss the specifics of what the proposed standard would look like, but a suggested revision is expected to be ready for the August council meeting,” Jennifer Rosato Perea, managing director of ABA Accreditation and Legal Education, wrote in a statement to the ABA Journal. “If adopted, the proposal will then be sent out for notice and comment to begin the review process.”

Proposed revisions would change the title from “Diversity and Inclusion” to “Access to Legal Education and the Profession.”

They would also include broadening the listed characteristics of diversity and inclusion to also include color, religion, national origin, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, age, disability, military status, socioeconomic background and Native American tribal citizenship. It would also require law schools to “adopt, publish and adhere to a policy that promotes professionalism, mutual respect and belonging for everyone in the law school community.”

As part of the revisions, an interpretation would be added addressing religiously affiliated schools with the guidance that “Standard 206 does not prohibit a religiously affiliated school from adopting and applying policies for admission of students and employment of faculty and staff that directly relate to its religious mission so long as notice of these policies has been given to applicants, students, faculty and staff before their affiliation with the law school.”

The section’s council is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as the sole accrediting body for U.S. law schools and serves as an independent arm of the ABA for that function.

Attorneys general from these states have not signed either later: Arizona, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

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