BATON ROUGE, La. — Attorney General Jeff Landry is describing an anti-discrimination proposal being considered by the state bar association to govern the conduct of Louisiana’s lawyers as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The proposed professional conduct rule would prohibit Louisiana lawyers from discrimination based on race, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status or disability. If the proposal is adopted, lawyers could face disciplinary action if they violate the rule.
The Republican attorney general’s office released the opinion publicly this week, in response to a request for the guidance from Warren Montgomery, district attorney for Washington and St. Tammany parishes.
In the 10-page opinion, Assistant Attorney General Emily Andrews said that existing rules of professional conduct and state laws already prohibit discrimination. She also said those rules “address the perceived problems” that prompted the proposed anti-discrimination provision.
“There has been no demonstration that there is a need” for the rule, Andrews wrote.
An attorney general’s opinion does not carry the force of law, but is used as advice and can lay the groundwork for a legal dispute.
The Louisiana State Bar Association hasn’t taken action on the proposed conduct rule, which is based on an anti-discrimination “model rule” from the American Bar Association.
The language in the state bar association proposal would describe it as professional misconduct to “engage in conduct in connection with the practice of law that the lawyers knows or reasonably should know involves discrimination” based on the list of criteria.
Andrews said the rule likely would be found unconstitutional because its language was vague and the provision involving “conduct in connection with the practice of law” would sweep in areas outside the courtroom entitled to First Amendment protection.
She also described the model rule from the American Bar Association as unconstitutional.
She wrote that the model rule violates lawyers’ freedom of speech and could suppress attorneys’ conduct outside of professional practice, restricting their ability to participate in faith-based and other organizations “that promote a specific political or social platform.”
Andrews also wrote that the model rule is so broad in its prohibited conduct that it could “result in lawyers being punished for practicing their religion” because of a church’s views on same-sex marriage or divorce, for example.
Landry also has weighed in on anti-discrimination policies in other areas.
He’s in a court dispute with Gov. John Bel Edwards over the Democratic governor’s 2016 executive order banning discrimination in government and state contracts based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Landry filed a lawsuit claiming the order was executive overreach, unconstitutionally seeking to create state law. A state district judge agreed, and Edwards is appealing the decision.
Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte