Law School Accreditation Demands Pass Scrutiny

     (CN) – It is not unconstitutional to base law-school accreditation on a bar exam passage rate of at least 40 percent among graduates, a federal judge ruled tentatively.
     The California Committee of Bar Examiners had made the rules effective on Jan. 1, and applied them retroactively.
     In a February complaint against 22 committee members, the Southern California Institute of Law claimed violations of its rights to due process and free speech.
     The SCIL was accredited in 1996 and claims that most of its 75 to 100 students are working adults with low to moderate incomes. It says the requirement has a disproportionate effect on small law schools where the amount of students taking the bar exam can easily skew passage rates.
     California accredited law schools are also required by other guidelines to post bar passage rates on their websites and include the disclaimer that says “study at, or graduation from, this law school may not qualify a student to take the bar examination or be admitted to practice law in jurisdictions other than California.”
     In a tentative order dismissing SCIL’s action with prejudice, the Central District of California found the rules do not violate the First Amendment.
     “Compliance with the ALS Guidelines is a prerequisite to being or continuing to be accredited,” the 18-page order states. “There are a wealth of federal and state regulatory programs requiring the disclosure of product or other commercial information as a prerequisite to receive or maintain a status that are significantly more intrusive than ALS Guideline 2.3(D)(i)-(ii) and do not offend the First Amendment.”
     U.S. District Judge James Selna presides over the case, but the unsigned order may have been prepared by U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Block.
     “SCIL consents to being told what type of content it must teach, when it must teach it, and what other disclosures it must make,” the order states. “The idea that each disclosure and content-based requirement in the ALS Guidelines would require a First Amendment analysis (the logical endpoint of SCIL’s position) is mistaken.”
     The court also noted its finding “that requiring a CALS to create an ‘Accreditation’ webpage that includes the CALS’s bar passage rates or an active link to the State Bar’s ‘Statistics’ webpage is reasonably related to CBE’s interest in protecting prospective students and a reasonable, ancillary part of a broader regulatory scheme. For both reasons, ALS Guideline 2.3(D)(i)-(ii) is constitutional under the First Amendment.”

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