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State Bar Disciplinary Rules as Applied to Federal Government Attorneys

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The purported imposition of exclusive disciplinary jurisdiction by state courts upon federal lawyers acting in the scope of their federal authority is subject to the overriding requirements of the Supremacy Clause. Rules promulgated by state courts or bar associations that are inconsistent with the requirements or exigencies of federal service may violate the Supremacy Clause.

Although Department of Justice authorization statutes have implicitly recognized that federal attorneys may be subject to reasonable conditions of state bar membership and to state ethical rules of general application, the imposition of state rules of conduct which penalize or interfere with the performance of authorized federal responsibilities is not recognized or approved by such statutes.

To the extent that a proposed state bar rule asserting “exclusive” disciplinary jurisdiction implies an exclusive right to judge the conduct of federal attorneys by state ethical standards, to impose state sanctions, or to displace any federal forum, it would raise serious issues under the Supremacy Clause.

Updated July 9, 2014