CHICAGO, July 15, 2021 — The American Bar Association filed today its comments in response to the Florida Supreme Court opinion of April 15 that prevents The Florida Bar from accrediting continuing legal education (CLE) programs by organizations that have “quotas” for diversity in their CLE panels. The ABA’s comments address the court’s concerns and explain that the ABACLE Diversity and Inclusion Policy is one of inclusion, not exclusion.
The Florida court’s order prohibited The Florida Bar from approving any CLE program from a sponsor that uses “quotas based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, national origin, disability or sexual orientation in the selection of course faculty or participants.” Specifically, the order invalidated the Florida Business Law Section’s policy, which is substantially the same as the ABA policy. The Florida Bar interpreted the opinion to mean that all ABACLE programs that were not previously approved are ineligible for credit in Florida.
The ABA adopted the policy in 2016, and it seeks to broaden the diversity of panels at ABACLE programs by creating the goal of adding panelists from diverse backgrounds if a CLE panel is not diverse. The policy furthers ABA Goal III, which seeks to eliminate bias and enhance diversity in the legal profession.
The ABA’s comments to the Florida Supreme Court reaffirm that the ABA policy continues to “meet the aspirations of Goal III” by fostering the participation and engagement by lawyers from diverse backgrounds who historically may not have been selected for CLE panels. In response to the ruling, the ABA undertook to examine the policy “from the ground up” to better understand how the policy could have been misperceived.
To address the misperception, the comments include revisions to the policy to conform the language of the policy to the way it has always operated in practice. The new language clarifies the ABA’s goal of inclusion: If a CLE panel is not otherwise diverse, program organizers should add panel participants who bring diversity to achieve the goal of the policy.
“With this clarification, the ABA believes that there can no longer be any doubt that its (CLE) Diversity & Inclusion Policy does not offend the equal protection principles set forth” in U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the brief added.
The ABA’s comments can be found here.
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