|In the midst of pitched primary battles and the looming 2008 election, the American Bar Association House of Delegates challenged the traditional way states handle congressional and legislative redistricting, calling for a new process further removed from the politically charged atmosphere of state legislatures. In a vote by its policy-making body, the ABA urged each state to assign the process to an independent commission, leaving it to the states to configure the commissions and set suitable redistricting criteria.
“The ABA is continually identifying areas where current legal systems are not working, and suggesting sensible approaches for fixing them,” said ABA President William H. Neukom. “The new policy on redistricting reform is an example of the association’s dedication to the rule of law and its efforts to serve the American public.”
The resolution was one of nearly 30 new policy measures passed by the ABA House of Delegates, including two high-profile proposals relating to legal education and admission to the bar.
The House of Delegates concurred with the ABA’s legal education arm in adopting an interpretation of the Standards for Approval of Law Schools concerning law schools’ bar passage rates. The result of more than a year of debate and revision by the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, the interpretation is designed to clarify the various standards by which law schools can comply with ABA standards for minimum bar passage rates.
Additionally, the House adopted a model rule on conditional admission to practice law that offers guidance on bar admission for law students with substance abuse problems or mental illness. Such students are encouraged to seek proper treatment without fear that it will end their legal careers.
The ABA also spoke out forcefully on the continuing unrest in Pakistan, where many lawyers and judges remain under house arrest. A House resolution expressed solidarity with the Pakistani bar and bench, calling on the president of Pakistan to restore the country’s constitution, reinstate fired judges and justices, and release those wrongly arrested during the state of emergency.
“The constitution which Pervez Musharraf propped up in late December has been stripped of essential provisions, many judges remain under house arrest and protesters remain in jail,” said Neukom. “Without the rule of law, Pakistan is destabilized, more vulnerable to terrorism, and its economy is suffering. Under these conditions, we are concerned about whether free and fair elections are possible.”
The ABA also established new policy outlining legal approaches to the problem of climate change and environmental threats. The ABA will urge the U.S. government to take a leadership role in addressing climate change, and press federal, state and local governments to better protect and enhance ecosystems when approving new laws, regulations and policies.
Other proposals passed by the House call for strengthened legal representation on behalf of veterans of the U.S. military, special prosecution units to pursue crimes of elder abuse and new efforts by bar associations to assist identity theft victims.
The ABA also addressed cutting-edge areas of the law by endorsing a Model Act that governs assisted reproductive technology, by adopting standards on prosecutorial investigations, and through an amendment to the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The latter amendment clarifies a prosecutor’s obligation to act on new evidence that makes it reasonably likely that a convicted defendant did not commit the offense for which he was convicted.
Following the action at the Midyear Meeting, watch videos of prominent speakers and events, hear views of members attending and more at the Midyear Meeting Online Web site at http://www.abavideonews.org/ABA496/.
With more than 413,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.