ABA takes AA across the USA

By Dawson Bell Detroit Free Press (krt)

DETROIT – The official licensing body for U.S. law schools is on track to adopt a diversity standard in admissions for all law schools that enshrines the affirmative action policies at the University of Michigan.

The new American Bar Association standard requires law schools to energetically pursue racial and ethnic diversity, either by explicit consideration of race in admissions or, where that is barred, by other means, like recruitment and scholarship programs.

A statutory or constitutional ban on the consideration of gender, race, ethnicity or national origin “is not a justification for noncompliance,” according to the ABA’s proposal.

Michigan could become one of the states – joining California and Washington – where the use of race and gender in admissions decisions is prohibited if voters approve the ballot proposal dubbed the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative later this year.

Critics of the ABA standard, approved by the organization’s legal education committee over the weekend and slated for a final vote later this year, said it is an attempt to undermine such restrictions.

Terence Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, which represented the plaintiffs in the University of Michigan case, said the ABA is creating “a ready made loophole, to do an end around … if MCRI passes.”

Like the Michigan policy, “it is designed to enforce quotas, the ‘critical mass’ of students” from minority groups, Pell said.

John Sebert, consultant for the ABA committee, said those critics misconstrue the new standard. It would impose no new requirements on law schools, Sebert said, but only updates the policy to conform with the University of Michigan decision and make it “more transparent.”

Sebert said law schools would be required to demonstrate that they attempted to create a diverse student body.

“They’re not required to do anything race-based,” he said.

Evan Caminker, dean of the University of Michigan Law School, said he believes the new standards are intended to “strengthen the language about the seriousness of the commitment” on diversity.