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Although the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has slated a special briefing this week to explore a controversial rule change proposed by the American Bar Association regarding diversity enrollment in law schools, it appears that most of the agency’s commissioners have already made up their minds. Expected to speak at the session on June 16 will be legal scholars presenting the pros and cons of affirmative action in law schools and the proposed rule change that the American Bar Association (ABA) is taking up at its annual conference in August. The ABA’s proposal requires law schools to take concrete action to achieve racial and ethnic diversity. But despite the briefing designed to inform the commission on the matter, five of the agency’s seven commissioners -including its chair and vice chair-have already voiced their opposition in letters to the U.S. Department of Education. The letters assert that the new standard will force law schools to run afoul of existing anti-discrimination laws and the U.S. Constitution in order to meet accreditation requirements. They also call for the removal of the ABA’s accrediting authority if it adopts the changes. Gerald Reynolds, chair of the civil rights commission, said that the briefing could prove that his interpretation of the proposal was wrong. He added, however, that the rule change would interfere with law schools’ ability to establish their own admissions criteria. “Each school has its own vision, and the notion of an outside body imposing a world view on all institutions is, in my view, inappropriate,” said Reynolds, who also is assistant general counsel for the Kansas City Power & Light Co. At least one commissioner, Michael Yaki, however, argues that the new standard is in keeping with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, which upheld preferential enrollment practices at the University of Michigan Law School. Yaki is one of two Democratic members on the commission and a partner in the San Francisco office of Los Angeles-based Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro. The commission-an executive branch agency that currently has four Republican commissioners, two Democratic commissioners and one independent-is expected to issue a report after the briefing that will identify its position. The civil rights commission will make the report available to the public and will submit its recommendations to the president and Congress, according to a commission spokeswoman. Authors of the letters sent to the Education Department in March were the agency’s four Republican commissioners and one independent commissioner. The letters were in response to a call for comments on the matter issued by the Department of Education. The Education Department was expected to conduct hearings last week on whether to recertify the ABA as the accrediting body of the nation’s law schools. Those hearings have been postponed until December.

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