Hogan Lovells fires retired partner for stating hard truths about abortion in the black community.
Legal practice isn’t immune from the currents of speech suppression sweeping across the United States. If a professional conduct rule promoted by the American Bar Association is upheld in federal circuit court, suppression of unpopular speech may become even more common.
Robin Keller might as well have stepped on a land mine when she joined a “safe space” call for women at Washington’s Hogan Lovells law firm to discuss the Dobbs abortion decision. Keller, a retired equity partner still serving clients, made the mistake of expressing her honest opinion.
I noted that many jurists and commentators believed Roe [v. Wade] had been wrongly decided. I said that the court was right to remand the issue to the states. I added that I thought abortion-rights advocates had brought much of the pushback against Roe on themselves by pushing for extreme policies. I referred to numerous reports of disproportionately high rates of abortion in the black community, which some have called a form of genocide. I said I thought this was tragic.
The response was, sadly, predictable:
The outrage was immediate. The next speaker called me a racist and demanded that I leave the meeting. Other participants said they “lost their ability to breathe” on hearing my comments…
Someone made a formal complaint to the firm. Later that day, Hogan Lovells suspended my contracts, cut off my contact with clients, removed me from email and document systems, and emailed all U.S. personnel saying that a forum participant had made “anti-Black comments” and was suspended pending an investigation. The firm also released a statement to the legal website Above the Law bemoaning the devastating impact my views had on participants in the forum—most of whom were lawyers participating in a call convened expressly for the purpose of discussing a controversial legal and political topic. Someone leaked my name to the press.
I filed my own complaint with the firm’s general counsel’s office alleging that the firm and those who had attacked me on the call had violated the company’s antiharassment policy by publicly labeling me a racist. Hogan Lovells hired another firm to conduct an outside investigation. Three weeks later I received a letter stating that the firm had concluded that my reference to comments labeling black abortion rates genocide was a violation of the antiharassment policy. Never mind that this view has been expressed by numerous mainstream commentators, black and white, including in these pages. My complaint was dismissed…
Quote:"After Keller expressed her support for the opinion and concern about higher rates of abortions in the black community, a participant complained that she could not breathe and others called her a racist. She was later suspended and reportedly fired." https://t.co/83cZnMsjjY
— Brit Hume (@brithume) November 30, 2022
Let’s recap: for expressing facts and her honest opinion in a “safe space,” a woman – a semi-retired partner, no less – was branded a racist who made “anti-Black comments” that “violated the company’s antiharassment policy.” She was then fired from her firm.
This type of ideological persecution isn’t unique within the legal community. After triumphing in a Supreme Court case involving Second Amendment rights, Paul Clement and Erin Murphy were forced out by their now-former firm. Kirkland & Ellis told them to stop representing Second Amendment plaintiffs or find another firm. They set up their own shop instead.
Other firms have received massive pushback from associates for taking on or continuing to represent the politically incorrect. These new lawyers question the idea that every person is entitled to legal representation, the very foundation undergirding our adversary system. Remember how the bar praised itself for bravely taking on the U.S. government to represent purported terrorists detained at Guantanamo Bay? Those days are done.
Keller wasn’t pushed out for representing the wrong people, but for expressing the wrong opinions and facts. In particular, her factual statement that abortion rates within the black community are disproportionately high earned her the title of an anti-black racist.
Instead of being the adults in the room, the legal establishment has been jumping on the ‘anti-racism’ bandwagon. Several states have adopted an ABA Model Rule (8.4) prohibiting lawyers from “conduct” (read, “speech”) that’s discriminatory or harassing. Several states followed the ABA’s lead and adopted the rule into their rules of professional conduct for attorneys.
One of them was Pennsylvania. A Pennsylvania lawyer filed a federal lawsuit, claiming it violated his free speech and due process rights. The judge agreed and held the rule unconstitutional. The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which enforces professional conduct rules, appealed the ruling, and it is currently before the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
In the name of “protecting” community members from so-called discrimination or harassment, universities have sanctioned faculty merely for discussing racial classifications and hate speech. For example:
- Princeton University castigated its now-former professor Joshua Katz as a “race-baiter” for publicly opposing a set of DEI demands that included race-conscious admissions and faculty hiring. Ultimately, Princeton fired Katz after resurrecting a misconduct matter for which he had already served a disciplinary sanction…
- University of Pennsylvania Law School Dean Theodore Ruger is trying to discipline, if not sack, Professor Amy Wax because of her public critique of what she characterizes as the contemporary “obsession with race, ethnicity, gender, and now sexual preference.” Ruger characterized Wax’s statements as showing a: callous and flagrant disregard for our University community—including students, faculty, and staff—who have been repeatedly subjected to Wax’s intentional and incessant racist, sexist, xenophobic, and homophobic actions and statements. Ruger also complained that: Wax’s conduct inflicts harm on them and the institution and undermines the University’s core values. Wax has made these statements in the classroom and on campus, in other academic settings, and in public forums in which she was identified as a University of Pennsylvania professor.
Katz and Wax were publicly branded as racists by their own universities for their public critiques of race-conscious policy (citations omitted).
Katz isn’t a lawyer. Wax is, but wasn’t charged under the rule of professional conduct at issue in the Third Circuit case. Still, this is the kind of persecution we can expect under the rule.
Should the Third Circuit reverse the district court and conclude that Rule 8.4 doesn’t violate the Constitution, we can expect a lot more lawyers like Keller and Wax to be tagged as “racists” for stating facts and expressing opinions about current events that challenge today’s political verities. Their law firms or law schools won’t even have to lift a finger. All it will take is an offended listener snitching on them to the disciplinary board. The latter will do the rest.DONATE
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