February 10, 2017

Bar passage proposal fails, immigration resolutions approved after spirited ABA House debate

MIAMI, Feb. 6, 2017 — The American Bar Association House of Delegates rejected Monday a major change in the bar passage standard for ABA-accredited law schools, and approved a resolution that asks President Donald Trump to withdraw his Jan. 27 executive order that effectively halted the issuance of visas from seven predominately Muslim countries.

In other action, the House adopted new model rules for continuing legal education, which includes requiring credits for ethics, diversity and inclusion and mental health issues, as well as recommendations to improve the civil justice system. The 589-member House, which met on the final day of the ABA Midyear Meeting in Miami that began Feb. 1, sets policy for the association.

The proposal from the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar drew the most attention, and failed on a divided voice vote that was overwhelmingly opposed. The change would have simplified and strengthened the bar passage rate – considered a measure of the quality of a law school education – by requiring that ABA-approved law schools have 75 percent of its graduates who take the bar exam pass it within two years of graduation. The exam is given twice a year.

The House action on Resolution 110B followed more than an hour of debate, and reflected the national debate in legal education for striking the best balance between goals of diversity in the profession and consumer protection of students. The ABA sets standards and accredits more than 200 law schools. Both the schools and ABA, because of its singular national accreditation role, are being criticized for enrolling and graduating too many law students who cannot pass the bar exam, and who leave law school with significant debt.

The council is authorized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit the nation’s law schools. Under ABA rules, the proposed change goes back to the council for consideration and can be brought up one more time to the House. Regardless of the outcome of that potential action, the council has the final decision on how to proceed.

In a second legal education proposal, the House concurred to simplify several provisions to the council’s accreditation standards, with the most significant regarding written admission policies and qualifications of admitted students. The change simplifies and clarifies the interpretation of the standard related to a school’s non-transfer attrition or drop rate.

Two immigration resolutions, both filed during the past few days in response to national developments, were directed at both the executive branch of government and Congress. The executive branch resolution asked the president to withdraw the executive order that he signed as a national security measure on Jan. 27.

In the second resolution, the House reaffirmed current ABA policy by urging Congress to adopt legislation that ensured that refugees be assessed on an “individualized” basis and that “neither national origin nor religion be the basis for barring an otherwise eligible individual in making” decisions on their cases.


In other actions, the House adopted:

  • A new Model Rule for Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) that replaces a model rule approved in 1988. The new rules include three specialty credits that state licensing agencies are urged to require. They would cover ethics, diversity and inclusion and mental health and substance abuse (106).

  • Several resolutions related to criminal justice, including repeal and/or modification of the discriminatory prohibitions on blood donations by gay men. This provision also asks the federal Food and Drug Administration to develop tools for assessing individual risk to ensure the safety of the blood supply to reliably indicate, in a timely way, the presence of HIV and other blood-borne pathogens (112D). Other resolutions would strengthen efforts for accuracy in microscopic hair analysis (112A), and encourage law enforcement authorities to develop and use translations of Miranda warnings in as many languages as necessary to fully inform individuals of their rights (112C).

  • A proposal that state courts develop and implement a civil justice improvement plan to improve the delivery of civil justice guided by the recommendations in the “Call to Action: Achieving Civil Justice for All.” The resolution, proposed by a committee of the Conference of Chief Justices and endorsed by the CCJ, urged bar associations to promote those recommendations (102).

  • A policy that urges the United Nations, the United States and other governments and relevant international entities to develop and implement methodologies to measure and track the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence. Supporters said while it principally was prompted by incidents in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the problem is prevalent worldwide (105).

  • A resolution asking governments to enact legislation and implement public policy that provides that custody, visitation and access not be denied or restricted in any way based on a parent’s disability, absent a showing that the disability is causally related to a harm or an imminent risk of
    harm to the child (114).

  • A request to lawmakers at all levels to work with the legal profession to collaborate in the identification and removal of legal barriers to veterans’ access to a host of services, such as in housing, education, employment, treatment and benefits (118).

Final action on all the resolutions can be found here. Additional information on the Midyear Meeting, including action in the House of Delegates, can be found on the ABA news website.

With more than 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is one of the largest voluntary professional membership organizations in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at www.americanbar.org/news and on Twitter @ABANews.