Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit finds that NJ rule regarding advertising is unconstitutional

In a case called Dwyer v. Cappell, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has found that a certain rule adopted in New Jersey to ban attorneys from quoting judges (saying good things about the lawyers) in the lawyers' ads violates the First Amendment.  The opinion is available here.

In this case, a lawyer had posted on his website quotes from judicial opinions in which judges praised the lawyer's work. After the lawyer refused a request by a judge to remove a quote from his website, the state adopted a new rule that prohibits quotes from judges, but that allowed posting a full opinion.

As I understand it, the new rules was based on several arguments:  (1) that statements in an opinion discussing a lawyer’s work do not constitute an endorsement; (2) that the use of the quotes could make judges could appear biased in favor of certain attorneys and (3) that quotes taken from opinions could be taken out of context.  For this reason, and to avoid operating as a complete ban on speech, the rule allowed the use of the full opinion.

In sum, the three arguments are just expressions of the most common argument used by states that want to limit attorneys' speech: that the speech is "misleading."  And this is the most common argument because misleading speech is not protected speech.

Yet, the Court was not persuaded.  Because the use of the quotes is at worst "potentially misleading," the validity of the rule should be analyzed under the standard used for commercial speech as developed by the Supreme Court starting in Bates and Zauderer.  And using that analysis, the rule fails.  

On the other hand, the Court did not leave the state empty handed.  It suggested that because the information could be potentially misleading, the state could impose the use of a disclaimer to explain the origin of the quote and to state that the quote does not necessarily constitute an endorsement by a particular judge.