By R. Jonathan Shirts
For the first time since February 2020, the ABA’s Midyear Meeting was held in-person from February 1-6, 2023. We were warmly welcomed by the city of New Orleans; and I do mean warmly – temperatures were in the mid-50’s to mid-60’s while we were there, much warmer than anywhere in our great state during that time. Before this, I had not had the opportunity to visit New Orleans, and it gave me some unique experiences – I’m pretty sure I have never heard an accordion solo in a street band before.
One thing I have always wanted to experience was Mardi Gras in New Orleans; I still haven’t, but I feel like I’ve come close because the city was ramping up for it a month early. I heard someone say that New Orleans looks for any excuse to have a parade or a party, and it lived up to that billing – the entire House of Delegates was given a Second Line parade from the hotel to the Louisiana Supreme Court on Friday night, and the city hosted a pre-Mardi Gras parade Saturday night.
Once the House of Delegates recovered from the celebratory welcome to New Orleans, the real business began. This was the last House of Delegates meeting for the long-time ABA Executive Director, Jack Rives, and his address to the House discussed many of the advancements the ABA has been able to make during his tenure. [i] A new President-Elect, William R. Bay of Missouri, was selected to take up the gavel as President of the ABA in August 2024.[ii] He stated that one of his goals is to make all members of the legal profession feel welcome in the ABA, regardless of political, ideological, or other beliefs.[iii]
There were a number of Resolutions up for debate that were very hot topics of discussion leading up to the actual House of Delegates meeting.[iv] One of the major discussions surrounded a Resolution from the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. In November 2022, the Council voted to approve a change for ABA-accredited law schools which would eliminate the requirement for applicants to law schools to have taken the LSAT or another similar admissions test.[v] Both sides of the debate talked about how they felt that either keeping or eliminating the admissions test would enhance diversity within the legal profession. Being a fairly recent law school graduate, I personally struggled with understanding how the elimination of a relatively-objective measure in the admissions process would enhance diversity in the profession. But I also understood the arguments that marginalized groups and people of color have historically scored much lower on average on the LSAT and other admissions tests.[vi]
What we didn’t have available until the very last minute, however, was any objective data describing how elimination of an admissions test would promote or stifle diversity in law school classes. The data we were given the morning of the vote described how elimination of an admissions test did not foster a more diverse group of applicants, but in some situations, actually reduced it.[vii] In the end, the House of Delegates voted to send this Resolution back to the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar for more study on this issue, something the House of Delegates is allowed to do twice. After that, the Council can take any action it deems necessary without further input from the House.[viii] After a spirited debate, the House of Delegates voted to send this Resolution back to the Council for further study; however, 11 days later, the Council voted to return the Resolution to the House of Delegates for consideration at its next meeting.[ix]
Another lengthy and spirited debate surrounded the House’s consideration of a Resolution which would make it the ABA’s official policy that the Supreme Court of the United States should adopt a binding code of ethics.[x] After a significant amount of rousing debate, the House voted to pass the Resolution.[xi]
Other resolutions considered and passed involved removal of Confederate monuments and pictures from courthouses,[xii] support for anti-Semitic measures,[xiii] and international wildlife crime enforcement protocols.[xiv] There were also Resolutions passed discussing the rights of women to travel for medical procedures including abortions,[xv] the rights of intersex children to have informed consent before certain surgical procedures,[xvi] and 10 principles that would improve gender parity among criminal attorneys.[xvii]
The next ABA Meeting from August 2-8 will be much closer to us as it is being hosted in the beautiful city of Denver, Colorado. I would encourage anyone who is interested in voicing your concerns or comments to the House of Delegates to attend that meeting. Not only would it be a great networking opportunity and a great place to get CLE’s on topics relevant to today’s practice of law, it’s a way to make your voice known. If you have any questions about attending the ABA Annual Meeting, the work of the House of Delegates, or the ABA in general, any of your Idaho Delegates would be happy to speak with you.
Until next time, thank you all for being a fantastic Bar that I am proud to represent.
R. Jonathan Shirts graduated from the University of Idaho College of Law in 2018 and is currently the Staff Attorney for the Hon. Randy Grove of the Third District. He has also worked as the Staff Attorney for the Hon. Nancy Baskin and Hon. George Southworth. He enjoys good books and spending time in the outdoors with his wife, daughter, and two sons.
[iv] A full list of the Resolutions with executive summaries considered during the 2023 Midyear Meeting can be found at https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/house_of_delegates/summary-of-resolutions/2023-midyear-summary-of-resolutions.pdf (“Resolutions”).
[v] Resolutions, pp. 65-78.
[viii] See, RULES OF PROCEDURE HOUSE OF DELEGATES, §45.9 Law School Accreditation, https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/house_of_delegates/constitution-and-bylaws/constitution-and-bylaws.pdf.