Recent graduates of the James E. Rogers College of Law are facing unprecedented times. Of course, that is no surprise to anyone.
Cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. are reaching dangerous levels. The Mayor of Phoenix has come out and stated that the city has reached a critical point. Phoenix is one of the largest hotspots in the country for the virus. Young people are contracting the virus at increasing rates. There is also data showing that even when some people beat the virus, they will be left with life-long complications and higher risks for certain diseases and cancers. And recent developments show that the virus is probably now airborne and spreads through AC systems while indoors.
To make matters worse, our country is also facing great civil unrest. The Black Lives Matter movement has swept the country and, as a result, large cities are facing great levels of unchecked violence. People are fighting for their lives by protesting police brutality and are being killed doing so. There are cities and neighborhoods in which white supremacist groups have made footholds and terrorize the area purposely running people down in unmarked vehicles, engaging in shootings and lynching Black people.
Everyone is touched in some way by current events. Of course, some are touched more than others. Those that are touched more are some of your students. Native students are adversely affected by the virus. The Navajo Nation, for example, at one time was in the top three hotspots for virus in the country. Latinx students and Black students are also adversely affected by the virus and experience higher rates of infection. These are the very students that our College of Law prides itself in serving.
Moreover, these are the same students that are impacted most by the Black Lives Matter movement and current protests. Our students are from these communities that are seeing the worst of it and have ties and family there. They are concerned for the safety of those they care about, not just from a world-wide pandemic, but from radical groups that would see their oppression by any means.
Your students are grieving loved ones. Your students are scared. Your students are taking care of young children. Your students are taking care of elderly and vulnerable family members. Your students are fighting a fight not like any class before it, and that serves as a barrier to licensure in our state.
Despite all of this, the Arizona Supreme Court will still be offering an in-person July Bar Exam that will put 650 applicants at risk for contracting the virus. The Supreme Court has stated that there will be precautions put in place, such as staggered arrival times and splitting all of the exam takers into three rooms (so over 200 individuals in a confined space indoors). It is glaringly obvious that no matter how many precautions are taken, an in-person exam still poses undue risk. And this is paired with the new shutdowns Gov. Ducey has passed and advises against the gathering of more than 50 individuals. Offering an in-person bar exam now is not only grossly irresponsible, but it is callous.
Now, the Supreme Court is also offering an October Bar Exam online. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court gave applicants a short window to decide whether they would like to forward their July Bar Exam to October. In this short window, applicants were given little information and expected to make a choice with a hard deadline. The most concerning issue is grading. The Supreme Court does not know how the October Exam will be graded given it will be condensed and online. Without all of the facts, applicants are stripped of their autonomy and freedom to make informed choices for themselves in a time in which choice is critical and lives depend on it.
Furthermore, it has come to light that one of the Supreme Court Justices for Arizona is also one of the chair members of the board for the NCBE. It is unclear whether this justice has recused herself during these decisions. Even so, her presence in decisions on whether to administer the bar exam is a gross conflict of interest. This justice stands to gain by putting applicants at risk and forging ahead.
Additionally, the individual exchanges that some applicants have shared with the Committee on Examinations and employees of the Judicial Branch have been calloused, rude and outright appalling.
We, the graduating class of 2020, and other applicants for the July Bar Exam, ask you Dean Miller, and other faculty, to come forward, stand behind your students and ask the Arizona Supreme Court to grant diploma privilege.
Graduating Class of 2020 and other applicants for the July Bar Exam
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