Monday, August 01, 2005

Handshakes, Humor, and Revisionist History

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has an article about the Minnesota Chapter of the Federalist Society. SwanBlog broke the story that there is nothing sinister about the organization, and that membership criteria are kind of fuzzy.

The story has somewhat of a jocular tone. Peg Corneille of the Board of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) laughs it up with the reporter, downplaying suggestions that the Board of CLE takes more time to approve a course from a conservative perspective than all the other liberal ones. She says that the rule requiring lawyers to take two hours of "Elimination of Bias" classes require "addressing" the topic of bias, and that "they don't tell you what you have to say about it." This is rewriting history somewhat.

On September 13, 2001, when most Americans had their minds on other things, the CLE Board had a meeting on whether to revoke the earlier-granted credits of the 2001 Federalist Society "Elimination of Bias" course. There were several complaints from bar groups, the State Public Defender, a retired State Supreme Court justice, and individual attorneys. One attorney said he was considering filing ethics charges against the sponsors and participants in the course. The Board agreed to request an opinion from the Minnesota Attorney General whether it was legal to retroactively de-certify a course. In the meantime, the Board voted not to accredit similar presentations in the future. The 9/13 motion reads as follows:

That the staff be directed not to approve for Elimination of Bias credit future
courses whose goal, either stated or based on materials received and reviewed,
does not appear to be the elimination of bias. (emphasis in original)

Got that? If you question the existence of systemic bias in the legal system, no credit. The Federalist Society submitted a second course to the Board in March 2003 that was scheduled to take place the following June. CLE providers get the highest attendance in June because it is right before the reporting deadline. Because the staff could not approve it without authorization from the quarterly Board meeting, the course had to be scheduled for June 2004. This was brought up in the Elliot Rothenberg case, resulting in a somewhat cryptic warning from the Minnesota Supreme Court to "exercise continued vigilance as it reviews and approves courses for the elimination of bias credit." That could either mean that the Board should accredit more conservative courses, or none at all. The vagueness of the rule means that a provider who presents a conservative perspective never knows if its course will have difficulty getting approved.

To read more about the "Elimination of Bias" requirement, check out Biasbattle.com, 599 to 1 CLE (599 liberal, one conservative, zero apolitical), and Overlawyered.com.

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