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January 25, 2024

ABA House will tackle law school free speech policies, other timely issues at Feb. 5 meeting

CHICAGO, Jan. 25, 2024 — The American Bar Association House of Delegates will conclude the ABA 2024 Midyear Meeting next month in Louisville, Kentucky, with 31 resolutions on the agenda, including a measure that would require for the first time ABA-approved law schools to have broad free speech policies.

Other resolutions focusing on education materials, student expectation of privacy and access to medical services advocate for individual rights in the face of government encroachment.

The in-person-only ABA 2024 Midyear Meeting opens on Wednesday, Jan. 31. The policymaking House, known as the HOD, encompasses 597 delegates from ABA entities and state, local and specialty bar associations. It meets at 9 a.m. EST Monday, Feb. 5 at the Kentucky International Convention Center (221 South Fourth St.).

With the posted agenda set weeks in advance of the HOD meeting, late resolutions could be added under certain circumstances to reflect proposed ABA policy responses to national and other developments during the past few weeks.

Resolution 300 would establish a new standard for the nation’s 196 law schools now accredited by the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which serves as an independent arm of the ABA for the approval of law schools. The new standard would require schools to adopt a policy that would allow faculty, students and staff “to communicate ideas that may be controversial or unpopular, including through robust debate, demonstrations or protests,” and would forbid activities that disrupt or impinge on free speech. But it wouldn’t impose specific policy language.

Law school faculty have long enjoyed protections for academic freedom. But if enacted, the new standard would be the first to address free speech for the entire law school community. The move follows student protests at Stanford Law School and Yale Law School, which disrupted controversial conservative speakers, and comes amid campus tensions in the aftermath of the conflict in the Middle East, which began with Hamas’ invasion of Israel on Oct. 7, 2023.

Under ABA rules and procedures, the HOD can concur, reject or make recommended changes. But the council has the authority to move ahead with its change after two HOD reviews, regardless of how the HOD acts.

The HOD also will debate new or updated ABA policies related to several hot topics. Resolution 505 opposes any attempt by governmental entities to restrict the teaching, inclusion of studies or access to resources on the “experiences, roles and contributions” of any individual or group on the basis of such areas as gender, race and ethnicity. Another, Resolution 507, opposes limitations to any healthcare provider or hospital that receives Medicare funding to provide patients with care, including abortion, to address emergency medical conditions.

Other HOD proposals include:

  • Resolution 501, which affirms the essential role of prosecutorial discretion and independence in the criminal justice process and would prevent the removal, suspension or substitution of elected prosecutors for personal or partisan reasons or without due process. In Florida, an elected former prosecutor was ousted by the governor allegedly for statements he signed in support of transgender care and abortion rights, and in January a federal appeals court allowed his suit against the governor to proceed.
  • Resolution 508, which asks all educational authorities to establish and implement policies that recognize that all students, including transgender, gender-nonconforming, and nonbinary students, have a reasonable and protected expectation of privacy when determining how and with whom to share information about their gender identity.
  • Resolution 506, which urges governmental entities to follow the federal Death in Custody Reporting Act and ensure that there is an independent investigation into the cause of any death that occurs in a correctional institution or in the custody of law enforcement.
  • Resolution 604, which asks Congress to pass legislation to establish a President’s Award for Civic Engagement to reward and recognize students in grades 5 through 12 who display outstanding civic leadership and leadership in their communities; and urges the U.S. Department of Education to establish national criteria for this award.

For details on all policy resolutions and other matters for consideration during the one-day session, click here. HOD proposals do not become ABA policy until approved by the House, which meets twice annually. The next HOD meeting is scheduled for early August in Chicago.

For reporter access, contact Media Relations and Strategic Communications at [email protected] with proof of credentials. The access code for free online registration will follow ABA approval.

NOTE: Midyear Meeting programming is available to news reporters according to the ABA Open Meetings policy. Media credentials include free access to fee-based association events, including the Spirit of Excellence Awards. For general assistance regarding the Midyear Meeting, contact [email protected] or 202-662-1090. Stay up to date on conference developments at the Midyear Meeting Reporter Resources webpage.

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