Aug. 14, 2007 · A controversial resolution urging federal, state and local governments to limit access to publicly available criminal justice records was pulled shortly before the American Bar Association’s policy-making body, the House of Delegates, was slated to vote on the measure.
A posting on the association’s Web site dated Monday indicated that the measure was withdrawn before the vote scheduled for the ABA’s annual meeting, which is taking place this week in San Francisco.
The resolution, co-sponsored by the ABA’s Commission on Effective Criminal Sanctions and its criminal justice section, recommended that governments deny access to court and law enforcement records concerning both arrests and convictions.
The purpose for the resolution, according to a report by the commission, was to limit the “disqualifying effect of a criminal record” on the more than 71 million individuals in the United States with criminal records histories currently seeking employment and housing.
“The most effective way to accomplish this is to limit access to the record itself, after a certain period of time and under certain conditions,” the report reads.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has opposed the recommendation and sent a letter to the chair of the House of Delegates expressing its concerns about the resolution’s consequences for the First Amendment and open government.
The chair of the commission that drafted the recommendation, Stephen Saltzburg, told The Associated Press on Sunday, “For now, we threw in the towel.”
“People agree there’s a problem. Everyone agrees there’s unfairness. But we don’t have a solution that gets people saying that’s one we can all support,” said Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington University.
In the last two weeks, the Reporters Committee and other media groups increased attention nationally on the measure, urging ABA delegates to reject it. And late last week, some of the largest commercial users of court records, including database giants LexisNexis and ChoicePoint, sent a letter of their own to the House of Delegates denouncing the proposed resolution.
“We implore the House of Delegates to not promote blanket governmental concealment of information about arrests and convictions without a full accounting of the impact such concealment holds for individuals and businesses,” the letter read.