ABA committee to consider gender identity protections, additional school locations

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The Standards Review Committee of the American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar will consider adding protections based on gender identity and ethnicity to existing rules at its Saturday meeting in Chicago. The committee will also tackle issues of studying outside the U.S., additional locations, and major changes in programs or structures at law schools.

Proposed revisions to Standard 205, Non-Discrimination and Equality of Opportunity, and Standard 206, Diversity and Inclusion, that will be considered would add “ethnicity” and “gender identity” to the protected classes in the section’s guidelines on law school admissions and hiring policies. However, the proposed revisions include language that says a religiously affiliated school would not be required to “act inconsistently with the essential elements of its religious values and beliefs,” and further holds that ABA-accredited law schools “may provide a preference” for students and employees following the school’s religious affiliation.

The proposed language also would not allow law schools to deny admission or retention of a student on the basis of the various protected classes, including religion.

Another proposed revision adds the phrase “student body” to Other proposed revisions include the removal of the term “inclusion” from the heading of Standard 206 and the addition of the phrase “student body” to diversity language in Standard 206(a)(2) that currently only addresses faculty and staff. That diversity language is also proposed to change from addressing “gender, race, and ethnicity” to addressing “race, color, ethnicity, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, and disability.”

In addition to proposed revisions to Standards 205 and 206, the Standards Review Committee will also consider proposed changes to Standard 105 as it relates to acquiescence for major program changes, particularly establishing an additional location. Specifically, the proposed revisions would define an “additional location” as a location “where a student may earn more than one-third but less than half of the credit hours that the law school requires for the award of a J.D.”

The proposed revisions would further require acquiescence of the ABA council for a change in the location of a law school “that could result in substantial changes in the faculty, administration, student body, or management of the school.” Additionally, the revisions would remove an interpretation of Standard 105 which holds that an additional location where a student can earn at least two-thirds of their credit hours is “rebuttably presumed to require provisional approval as a new law school.”

How many credits a student may earn at foreign institution and at an U.S. law school with additional locations outside of the country are also on the agenda.

If any of the proposed revisions are approved, they will be forwarded to the section’s governing council.

The agenda is available here.

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