Emerging Scholars Fellowship

In the News: ABA Resolution Urges an End to Mental Health Discrimination Against Bar Applicants

Active Minds would like to join our friends at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in applauding the American Bar Association’s call for an end to discriminatory use of mental health screening for bar applicants.

During their annual meeting earlier this month, the ABA’s House of Delegates voted to approve a resolution that urges state and territorial bar licensing entities to eliminate any questions about an applicant’s mental health history, diagnosis or treatment when determining character and fitness for the purpose of bar admission. The resolution states that the questions should instead focus on conduct behavior that impairs an applicant’s ability to practice law in a competent, ethical and professional manner.

esquerra-theresaActive Minds was first introduced to this topic when 2009 Emerging Scholar Theresa Esquerra conducted a study of the mental illness disclosure requirements on Moral Character and Fitness applications for state bar admissions. Theresa’s study intended to identify which states’ disclosure requirements may be unconstitutional and suggested that state bars provide law school students with mental illnesses an independent medical evaluation of their condition. Since her time as an Emerging Scholar, Theresa has served on the Bazelon Center’s Leadership 21 Committee, and is currently on the Advisory Board of the Dave Nee Foundation. As an advisory board member, she also contributes to the work of the Starr Initiative on Character and Fitness, which was inspired by her 2009 project.

The Starr Initiative is dedicated to reducing the stigma around disclosing one’s mental health challenges, creating pathways for treatment and recovery, and educating the public about mental health and suicide prevention. Theresa is an Attorney-Advisor with the Social Security Administration’s Office of Appellate Operations where she advises Administrative Appeals Judges about whether to grant or deny review of Title II and Title XVI disability decisions.

Also of note, the ABA resolution comes a year after the US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a settlement of its investigation into complaints filed by the Bazelon Center on behalf of two Louisiana attorneys who faced discriminatory questions concerning their mental health. The investigation found that Louisiana’s licensure system violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to the DOJ, Title II is “intended to prohibit exclusion and segregation of individuals with disabilities and the denial of equal opportunities enjoyed by others, based on, among other things, presumptions, patronizing attitudes, fears and stereotypes of individuals with disabilities.” In the settlement agreement, Louisiana agreed to change its policies.

To read the ADA resolution, click here.

To read the DOJ settlement, click here.