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ABA launches legal fact-checking website

In what amounts to a kind of PolitiFact.com for law, the American Bar Association has launched a website that pushes back against legal misinformation.

The ABA’s Legal Fact Check website launched Aug. 17. On Tuesday, new ABA President Hillarie Bass told Minnesota Lawyer that the site primarily aims to reach the news media and the U.S. citizenry.

“There is so much public discourse out there with statements that do not accurately reflect the law,” Bass said. “This will be a source where members of the media, or members of the public, can go and say, ‘Is that really true?’”

What they will find, she said, are nonpartisan posts clarifying whether news reports or politicians’ statements accurately reflect the law. The initial plan, Bass said, is to post new material once a week. It may sometimes post more frequently in response to high-profile legal misstatements.

“We’re going to be responding to statements we hear that we believe to be inaccurate,” said Bass.

In its first round of posting, the site featured articles on hate speech, presidential pardons, flag burning, affirmative action and perennial calls to break up the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

One of those articles takes Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler to task for declaring in May that hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment. “That analysis is wrong,” the site says, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 8-0 ruling in Matal v. Tam, decided June 19.

Wheeler issued the statement after two men were killed in a knife attack after they tried to stop another man from screaming anti-Muslim slurs at women on a train.

The ABA website is put together by the organization’s Washington, D.C.-based communications staff and relies on case and statutory law and legal precedent “to separate legal fact from fiction,” the website says.

The website is one of several initiatives Bass has undertaken since assuming her new duties on Aug. 15.

She is also launching a Commission on the Future of Legal Education, which the ABA Board of Governors approved in April when Bass was still president-elect.

That 10-member commission will study issues such as the low bar-passage rate, skill sets needed for future lawyers practicing in 2050, and guidance for young lawyers to assist in bridging the nation’s “justice gap.”

Bass also is directing an ABA study on women leaving the legal profession in their 40s and 50s. “We start off as about half of the profession and by the age of 60 women are down to about a quarter of the profession,” she said. “That means a lot of them are leaving.”

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