Monday, August 8, 2016

Former U.S. attorney general: Proposed American Bar Association rule is “clear and extraordinary threat” to First Amendment

Attorney General Edwin Meese III and First Liberty President Kelly Shackelford send letter to the American Bar Association calling for the rejection of a proposed rule that could threaten attorneys’ free speech and religious liberty
San Francisco – Former United States Attorney General Edwin Meese III and Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty Institute, sent a letter to the American Bar Association (ABA) House of Delegates denouncing the ABA’s proposed Model Rule 8.4 as a “clear and extraordinary threat to free speech and religious liberty.”  

An ABA committee has recommended that the ABA adopt a new ethics rule at the annual ABA meeting on August 4-9 in San Francisco. Meese and Shackelford say this rule would create a virtual “speech code” for attorneys, which could be used to punish “political viewpoints” and “religious beliefs” of lawyers and clients. 

Under the new rule, attorneys could be disciplined by state bar authorities for expressing views, representing clients, or belonging to an organization that holds views that diverge from modern social orthodoxy on controversial issues such as marriage, immigration, and more.  

In the letter, Meese and Shackelford quote Professor Eugene Volokh of UCLA School of Law who contends that “a discussion with people” at dinner about “Christianity, black-on-black crime, illegal immigration, differences between the sexes,” or other topics may also result in the attorney being subject to bar discipline. They contend that the ABA rule could “ban Orthodox Jews, Christians, Muslims, and those of other faiths” from practicing law or obtaining legal counsel on controversial issues.  

“This proposal goes far beyond state law, violating the very spirit of the First Amendment,” Meese, who served as the 75th attorney general of the United States, says. “If implemented nationally, it could lead to the automatic disbarment of attorneys and judges over their private speech and beliefs.”  

“The fundamental purpose of our legal system is to ensure freedom,” said Kelly Shackelford, President of First Liberty Institute. “The law should protect the right of people to disagree with each other regarding important issues, not be used as a weapon to punish those who dissent from government mandated orthodoxy.”  

The ABA House of Delegates is expected to hold a vote on the rule on August 8 or 9. 

About First Liberty Institute 

First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans. 

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