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September 01, 2012

Washington News Briefs

LAW SCHOOL ADMISSIONS AND DISABILITY RIGHTS: ABA President Laurel G. Bellows urged California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. this month to sign AB 2122, a bill to ensure that individuals with disabilities are provided appropriate accommodations when taking law school admission tests. The legislation, which mirrors official ABA policy, is “essential to ensuring that persons with disabilities have equal access to the legal profession,” Bellows wrote in a Sept. 5 letter to Brown. Reports compiled since 2007 from students with disabilities led the ABA Commission on Disability Rights to propose the ABA policy, which was adopted by the association’s House of Delegates in February 2012. The students indicated that requests by testing entities for documentation regarding the students’ need for accommodations were burdensome and that the students were denied accommodations that they had been receiving in school for years and were not provided the opportunity for a fair and timely reconsideration of their requests. The ABA-supported bill urges entities that administer law school admissions tests to provide accommodations for test takers with disabilities to best ensure that test results reflect the skills of the test takers and not their disabilities. The bill also urges those administering the tests not to “flag” scores of applicants who have received extra time as an accommodation. In addition, the legislation includes ABA recommendations urging entities to make the process for determining whether to grant an accommodation public, convey a decision approving an accommodation to the applicant within a reasonable amount of time, and provide a fair and timely appeals process for a denied accommodation.

COURT SECURITY: Reacting to the increasing number of threats and violent incidents that have targeted the judiciary in recent years, the House passed a bipartisan bill Sept. 11 to provide assistance to state and local government to improve courthouse security. The legislation, H.R. 6185, would provide the following: access by state and local courthouses to security equipment that the federal government no longer uses, including metal detectors, wands and baggage screening machines; training and technical assistance to local law enforcement officers to teach them how to anticipate and survive violent encounters; and flexibility to the states to use various grant funding to making courthouse security improvements. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) noted during floor debate on the bill that data collected by the Center for Judicial and Executive Security shows that the number of violent incidents in state courthouses has gone up every decade since 1970. Since 2010, he said, there has been about one shooting per month at local courthouses across the country. “Those who are exercising their constitutional right of seeking justice in our courtrooms should not have to fear for their safety and neither should our law enforcement officers, judges, advocates and court personnel,” bill sponsor Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Fla.) emphasized. She noted widespread support for the legislation. The ABA adopted detailed judicial security policy in 2005 that includes language urging Congress to explore ways to provide assistance to state courts to assess and improve court safety and security. The policy recommends that all federal and state governmental departments and agencies assess the security needs of the courts and take all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of all participants in the adjudication process. S. 2076, similar Senate legislation, is pending on the Senate floor after approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 24.

 DIVERSITY: ABA President Laurel G. Bellows urged Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.) in a Sept. 12 letter to take diversity into consideration when proposing a candidate to President Obama for nomination for U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. Bellows, who practices law in Chicago, stressed that diversity in the justice system is important to the perception of fair treatment, particularly with regard to individuals viewed as holding positions of power. “Without a doubt, U.S. attorneys are among the most visible and powerful components of our justice system, and like judges, symbols of government authority,” she wrote. In her letter, Bellows said the ABA is staunchly committed to increasing diversity and eliminating bias in the association, the profession and the justice system. She noted that in 2000 the legal profession was 73 percent male and 88.8 percent white (non-Hispanic). Today, the profession is 68 percent male and 87.3 percent white (non-Hispanic). “Racial and ethnic groups, sexual and gender minorities and lawyers with disabilities continue to be underrepresented and face hurdles to advancement throughout the profession,” she said. ”Our failure to achieve a diverse justice system in the face of the ever-increasing multiculturalism of our nation invites a crisis in public confidence; a justice system that is not representative of the diverse community it serves runs the very real risk of losing its legitimacy in the eyes of those who come before it,” she concluded.

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