The NC State Bar: Peddling liberal crap, suffering constitutional amnesia, abetting societal decline

johnedwardsThe legal profession’s establishment is ALL FOR The First Amendment if you are spewing liberal nonsense and offending the sensibilities of conservative, mainstream America.  Just try to do the same thing from a conservative perspective. Then, stand back and marvel at all of the ensuing *tolerance.*

Stanly County attorney Jim Phillips, a Republican candidate for district attorney in a newly-created district, now has the state bar association all up in his business.  The problem?  He is putting out campaign signs that feature (1) his name, and (2) the position he’s seeking.  The state bar is upset about this, claiming that he’s making false statements — in violation of his oath as an attorney.  The bar suggests that Phillips is trying to fool voters into thinking he is already district attorney. 

Seriously?  I see campaign signs all the time featuring a candidate’s name AND the office they are seeking. The John Locke Foundation’s Dan Way has more:

[…]  “The claim that it is deceptive defies common sense,” said Hans von Spakovsky, manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative and senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation. 

“The Bar’s position interferes with the authority of election officials, who are responsible for enforcing state campaign rules. It is also a potential violation of the candidate’s First Amendment rights,” von Spakovsky said.

“I think the ability of bar associations to limit candidate political speech was curtailed by the [U.S.] Supreme Court in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White in 2002,” von Spakovsky said.

The court sided with an attorney whose political speech was restricted by the Minnesota Supreme Court’s so-called “announce rule.” The rule banned attorneys seeking judicial office from announcing their positions on disputed legal and political issues.

Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute, agreed that there are constitutional concerns about the North Carolina Bar regulating the political speech of a candidate for elective office.

“There is a doctrine in constitutional law that says government can’t make you choose between your rights,” Shapiro said. 

As a quasi-governmental agency that licenses and disciplines attorneys, the Bar’s rules may be forcing Phillips to choose between his First Amendment political speech freedoms and his ability to practice law. 

“I think this is an overreach by the Bar officials. I think that the chance of someone being misled by such a sign is essentially nil,” and that “indeed there is some sort of pretext,” Shapiro said. 

Rule 7.1 is “a pretty standard sort of ethical rule” that appears in bar guides around the country and whose intent is not violated by Phillips’ campaign signs, he said.

Shapiro said the Bar’s actions compare to the Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus lawsuit in which the U.S. Supreme Court next month is scheduled to hear arguments.

In that case, former U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus sued the pro-life nonprofit Susan B. Anthony List, saying its planned advertising attacks against him for voting to pass the Affordable Care Act falsely accused him of supporting federal funding for abortions. 

The Ohio Elections Commission blocked the ads, and Susan B. Anthony List sued on First Amendment grounds, saying the state law unconstitutionally criminalized political speech.

“That chilled their speech of not being able to advertise until after the election,” Shapiro said. The matter with the North Carolina Bar “seems very similar” in chilling political speech, he said.

“Once this is resolved, [Phillips] could file suit against the Bar just to get a declaratory judgment to say you can’t enforce Rule 7.1 in this manner,” Shapiro said. 

“I’m sure there would be lawyers willing to take this case pro bono [for no fee] to get a judgment in advance [of the next election] to stop the Bar from behaving in this manner,” he said.


We posted earlier about the state Bar — a government agency — offering continuing education credit for attending a seminar it was hosting on how to attack the North Carolina state constitution’s recently-approved marriage amendment.  A newly-formed North Carolina Republican Attorneys Association  is giving some hope to the idea of challenging and stemming the state Bar’s stranglehold on the legal profession.

2 thoughts on “The NC State Bar: Peddling liberal crap, suffering constitutional amnesia, abetting societal decline

  1. This interpretation by the NC State Bar is bizarre to say the least. Any competent campaign consultant will tell you that the only things that should be on a campaign yard sign are the candidate’s name and the office sought. No pictures. No slogans. No useless words like ”Vote for”, ”Elect”, or ”For” that just clutter the sign. The office sought is also in its shortest form ”Commissioner”, for example, instead of ”county commissioner” or even worse ”Wake County Commissioner”.

    The reason is very simple. The main function of yard signs is to build name recognition among low information voters. Such voters driving by typically only glance at yard signs, so the message needs to be very simple so that the glance the sign gets takes in the message. That is why an effective yard sign avoids extraneous things other than name and office sought.

    The interpretation by the NC State Bar seems to be establishing two classes of candidates. Incumbent candidates are allowed to have effective campaign signs. Non-incumbent candidates are required to have less effective campaign signs. This is undemocratic and indeed, un-American, and it is very troubling.

    The other distinction here that is very troubling is that it appears from the article that this interpretation is only being applied to one Republican candidate while Democrats in the same situation are doing the same thing without any intervention by the State Bar. For any interpretation, should it not apply to candidates of both parties?

    If the NC State Bar is going to wade into campaign issues for lawyers, it seems to be that there are some much more serious ones out there like the campaign contributions described here:

    But it seems to me that the State Bar is just inviting the legislature to revisit its grant of authority in such matters.

  2. Their claim about the sign is an absurd overreach by the Bar, and the fact that “the Bar” has quasi-legal status and power is an additional government overreach. 🙁

    I’ve no problem with voluntary professional associations, and those can add value in lots of ways… but there’s no need for them to be backed by government power.

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