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Pennsylvania lawyer says professionalism rules violate First Amendment

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(The Center Square) — A proposed professionalism rule for Pennsylvania lawyers has sparked a First Amendment challenge.

Critics say the rule, if implemented, could have a chilling effect.

The conflict in Greenberg v. Lehocky concerns the commonwealth’s Rules of Professional Lawyers and how it defines misconduct. Zach Greenberg, a licensed attorney who gives continuing legal education presentations on the First Amendment, challenged recent changes to the rule.

Though a district court agreed with his argument that the rule changes were unconstitutionally vague and presented a risk to the free speech of lawyers, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals found he had no standing to challenge them.

Since the October ruling by the Third Circuit, Greenberg has sought a review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Recently, a number of organizations have filed amicus briefs supporting Greenberg’s petition.

The Liberty Justice Center filed a brief Monday, arguing that “government officials cannot game their way out of First Amendment scrutiny.”

Without a ruling from the Supreme Court, the center argued, free speech remains under threat. Though the federal district court ruling resulted in a revised rule, Reilly Stephens of the center called it “half-hearted.”

“Pennsylvania’s definitions of ‘harassment’ and ‘discrimination’ sweep in a great deal of protected speech, and simply including a ‘knowing’ or ‘intent’ element cannot absolve a content and viewpoint-based restriction from constitutional scrutiny,” the Center noted.

A broad rule of professionalism wielded against lawyers, it argued, runs the risk of not getting enforced equally.

“Determining what sort of language is offensive is too subjective an enterprise to entrust to government officials,” the Center argued.

Other amicus briefs were filed by the Manhattan Institute and the New Civil Liberties Alliance.