We have been discussing the campaign of harassment and threats against Republican lawyers to get them to drop election challenges. New Jersey Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell expanded that campaign this week with a malicious and frivolous demand for New York and other states to disbar roughly two dozen lawyers for representing Trump, the Republican party, or the Trump campaign in the litigation. While Democratic members and the media discuss attacks on democracy and the rule of law, they appear to have little problem with campaigns to threaten and harass both lawyers and legislators for raising questions about the election.
Such calls have become common place. Indeed, during the impeachment trial of President Trump, North Carolina Law Professor Michael Gerhardt predicted that the entire Trump legal team would be disbarred after their representation of the President.
Many of us criticized Rudy Giuliani for his performance in this litigation, particularly the controversial press conference held last week. Indeed, I have previously criticized Giuliani for his public comments and allegations. However, Pascrell wants Giuliani disbarred specifically for filing these legal actions as well as a host of other lawyers.
Pascrell wrote to the Grievance Committee for three New York Judicial Districts that “Mr. Giuliani has participated in the filing of a series of absurd lawsuits seeking to overturn the will of the voters … and has caused irreversible damage to the public trust in the fair administration of our elections.” Pascrell claimed that filing the cases constitutes “clear” evident that he was violating the state’s Rules of Professional Misconduct that prohibit “dishonesty, fraud, deceit” and “misrepresentations.”
The letters to various state bar associations seems to go out of its way to self-identify as a vicious attack on any lawyers who do not yield to demands that they remove themselves from any election challenges:
“The pattern of behavior by these individuals to effectuate Mr. Trump’s sinister arson is a danger not just to our legal system but is also unprecedented in our national life. In carrying out that perversion, they have clearly violated the … Rules of Professional Conduct they swore to uphold and should face the severest sanction your body can mete out: revocation of their law licensures. The holding of a law license is a sacred responsibility. You have an opportunity here to make a powerful statement in support of our democracy and deter future charlatans and miscreants from warping our legal and political
systems for their own profit.”
As I have previously discussed, it is a familiar campaign that is unfolding without objections from most media figures, lawyers, or law professors. Indeed, this is a campaign that has been led by lawyers against lawyers.
Groups like the Lincoln Project targeted law firms and launched a campaign to force lawyers to abandon Trump or his campaign as a client. This effort resulted in Twitter blocking the Lincoln Project for targeting individual Trump lawyers in a tweet (accompanied by a skull-and-crossbones emoji) that was deemed threatening and abusive. That only seemed to thrill the Lincoln Project. It reportedly joined Democrats in targeting law firms like Porter, Wright, Morris & Arthur and threatening its lawyers with professional ruin. It claimed that any firm working for Trump on election litigation was part of a “dangerous attack on our democracy.” Trying to strip people of their counsel, of course, is the real attack on our democracy — and it worked: The firm buckled and withdrew, saying the pressure caused internal struggles and at least one lawyer’s resignation.
At the same time, Democratic leaders like Michigan’s Attorney General Dana Nessel have threatened criminal prosecution against those who have posted videos alleging voting fraud and even threatened possible prosecution of legislators who meet with President Trump or raise challenges to the election results. The media is virtually silent on these threats to coerce lawyers and legislators into silence. That is not viewed as a threat to the rule of law. The threats against lawyers follows a pattern where Democratic members are calling for blacklists and others denounce any questioning of the Biden victory as akin to “Holocaust denial.” I spoke last week to Republican lawyers who described death threats, doxxing, and continual harassment for their representation in these lawsuits. The message is that if you represent the wrong side you will be denounced, doxxed, and disbarred.
Pascrell is not alone in calling for such bar actions as a new way to pressuring Republican lawyers, particularly after the dismissal of the Pennsylvania lawsuit a couple days ago. However, while the court offered a scathing analysis of the claims, it also found that the individual voters had “adequately pled that their votes were denied” and might be entitled to other relief. However, the court balked at the notion of negating the votes of others in response to such alleged voting errors. That is not the type of ruling that leads to suspension, let alone disbarment. While the court slammed the Trump campaign on its legal claims, it did not impose sanctions against the lawyers. I agree with the court’s conclusion and I have been critical of claims in some of these lawsuits as facially insufficient to block certification. However, that does not mean that these voters — or their lawyers — should be barred or punished in seeking judicial review.
What Pascrell is doing is undermining our legal system by using his office to advance a campaign targeting lawyers and legislators who raise objections to his party prevailing in the presidential election. As with the Lincoln Project’s campaign, this is raw retaliation and intimidation to deter the use of our legal process. When such actions were taken against lawyers representing civil rights groups and others in the 1960s, it was correctly denounced as an outrageous abuse of our legal system. Now that Republican lawyers are being targeted, it has become a campaign supported members of Congress, thousands of lawyers, and the media.
What Pascrell is doing is a dangerous form of demagoguery that should be denounced by people of good-faith regardless of their political affiliations.