Supreme Court Rejects Free Speech Case Over Attorney Bias Rule

Free Speech Attorney Bias Rule

The Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from a Pennsylvania lawyer who contested a state professional rule targeting harassment and discrimination.

Zachary Greenberg, an attorney with the non-profit Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, sought to revive his lawsuit challenging the rule, which prohibited lawyers from knowingly engaging in harassment or discrimination based on various grounds such as race, sex, and religion.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August that Greenberg lacked standing to sue as he hadn’t demonstrated that the rule infringed upon his constitutional free speech rights.

The court held that the rule only applied to knowing or intentional harassment or discrimination against a person and did not encompass Greenberg’s activities.

Greenberg argued that his presentations on offensive language put him at risk of violating the rule, but the court concluded that the rule didn’t prohibit his planned actions.

Adam Schulman, representing Greenberg for the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute, expressed disappointment at the Supreme Court’s decision but noted satisfaction in narrowing the scope of the professional conduct rule during litigation.

Schulman stated they were prepared to return to court if Pennsylvania or any other state attempted similar measures.

Lawyers representing Pennsylvania’s state attorney disciplinary board did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Pennsylvania Rule 8.4(g), initially adopted in 2020 and later amended after Greenberg’s lawsuit, was modeled after an American Bar Association rule.

The revised version of the rule was deemed unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Chad Kenney in March 2022 before being reinstated by the 3rd Circuit last year.

The Pennsylvania rule garnered support from the ABA and other bar associations but faced opposition from conservative, religious, and civil rights groups who argued it could be easily abused.