In a recently issued ethics opinion, the Arizona State Bar declared, “a lawyer may ethically counsel or assist a client in legal matters expressly permissible under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act...despite the fact that such conduct potentially may violate applicable federal law.” Whatever one may think of the wisdom of Arizona’s new medical marijuana law, the Bar apparently takes principles of state sovereignty seriously enough to shield lawyers from blanket claims that helping clients violate federal law is unethical.
Of course, the ethics ruling is subject to many caveats, including the proviso that it “is limited to the specific facts discussed herein.” But it would be outrageous if the Bar’s opinion were merely a special favor for the medical marijuana industry. Hopefully, the ruling signals that the Bar will stand by attorneys who, in good faith, advance state law when it clashes with federal law.
In an era when the federal government increasingly exceeds its constitutional authority, it is imperative that bar associations support good faith efforts by attorneys to enforce state laws. Without this protection, bar associations would be giving the federal government carte blanche to dictate laws without any checks or balances arising from the states.
With the federal government claiming the power to force everyone to buy health insurance, and administrative agencies like the National Labor Relations Board going after states that seek to protect the right to vote by secret ballot in union elections, the freedom for attorneys to advance state laws is essential.
Nick Dranias holds the Clarence J. and Katherine P. Duncan Chair for Constitutional Government and is director of the Joseph and Dorothy Donnelly Moller Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute.
Goldwater Institute: Health Care Freedom Act Q&A
Goldwater Institute: National Labor Relations Board v. State of Arizona (Save Our Secret Ballot case)
State Bar of Arizona: Ethics Opinion