The state Commission on Higher Education must grant the for-profit InfiLaw System a license to operate the Charleston School of Law if the company meets the specified criteria, according to the state's top legal office.

Attorney General Alan Wilson's office, in response to an inquiry from Rep. John King, D-York, stated the commission doesn't have discretion in deciding such matters. Nor can it deny the license over reputation and character issues not specified in the law, or over pending lawsuits at two of InfiLaw's three law schools.

The commission will vote Thursday on whether to grant InfiLaw a license, bringing to a close a yearlong, contentious process.

Two of the private law school's three owners want to sell to InfiLaw. But many students, alumni, faculty and members of the state's legal community are opposed because they think InfiLaw's three law schools have lower standards. Selling the school to the company could diminish the value of a Charleston School of Law degree, they have said.

Kevin Hall, a Columbia lawyer who represents InfiLaw, said his client now is very optimistic the license will be approved.

"The Attorney General's opinion makes it clear that the commission should grant the license," he said.

Last month, the commission's Academic Affairs and Licensing Committee voted 3-1 against granting the license. The full commission will consider the committee's recommendation when it votes Thursday. There currently are 11 members on the commission.

The website charlestonlawfacts.com, which is published by the law school, stated that the opinion suggests the committee erred when it voted against approval of the license.

The commission must approve operating licenses for all private higher education institutions that operate in the state.

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.