August 14, 2017

ABA House passes series of juvenile justice reforms, new policy for undocumented law students

The American Bar Association House of Delegates, which determines association-wide policy, approved Monday a resolution that supports the principle that undocumented law students should not be denied bar admission solely because of their immigration status.

Under the resolution, proposed by the ABA Law Student Division and embraced by the ABA Young Lawyers Division, recommended that state courts with authority to regulate admission to the bar admit those students if they are “seeking legal status.”

The action by the House — made up of 601 delegates from state, local and other bar associations and legal groups from across the country — came on the first day of its two-day meeting in New York. The House session as well as the ABA Annual Meeting, which started Aug. 10, concludes on Tuesday.

Resolution 108, which recommended admission to the bar for undocumented law graduates, passed by a voice vote with modest opposition. The resolution was introduced by Thomas Kim, a third-year law student and incoming chair of the ABA Law School Division, who shared his own personal story of coming to the United States as a child without legal status.

Kim, a native of South Korea, attends Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and has been a summer associate for a Big Law firm. He recounted how 12 years ago a lawyer “cheated the family” when they applied for legal status. From that point, Kim wanted to pursue law and eventually received 30 offers from law schools with full tuition. As an undocumented person, he can only get admitted to the bar in a minority of states and urged the change so “hundreds of law students like me” can be licensed.

The resolutions related to juvenile system cover dual jurisdiction, bail reform and solitary confinement. Drawing from the ABA Criminal Justice Standards, Resolution 112A seeks to address the predicament faced by juveniles caught in child welfare and criminal justice systems at the same time. Resolution 112C urges governments to adopt policies that favor release on recognizance, advocating that pre-trial detention should not be occur solely on the ability to pay; and Resolution 112E would prohibit the use of solitary confinement for those under 18 years old.

Among other proposals, the House considered resolutions in these areas:

·        Records expungement: Two different resolutions would affect those exonerated from a charge as well as those found guilty of minor offenses. Resolution 112F urges governments to allow individuals to petition to expunge all criminal records pertaining to charges of arrests that did not end in a conviction. Resolution 112G urges that convictions for minor violations for certain crimes related to homelessness be eligible to be expunged.

·        Federal courts: In passing Resolution 104, the House reaffirmed its opposition to restructuring the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, one of 13 in the federal appellate system. Legislation has been proposed in Congress to split up the circuit, but there is strong opposition in the legal community. Speakers said the large majority of the 29 appellate judges on the court also oppose the split, as have bar groups in the western states and others.

·        Gideon issues: Resolution 106 urges Congress to give the U.S. Department of Justice more powers to ensure compliance with the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, which gave defendants in most criminal cases the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Lora J. Livingston, a Texas judge who presented the resolution on behalf of the Standing Committee on Legal and Indigent Defendants, said the “the promise of Gideon has been broken” as many defendants are provided counsel who prove ineffective. Resolution 115 supports the appointment of counsel at federal government expense to represent all indigent persons in immigration removal proceedings.

Additional resolutions will be addressed Tuesday. All resolutions, including their status, can be found here. No proposal constitutes association policy unless and until the House of Delegates adopts it.