Pennsylvania Rule Waiving Bar Exam Requirement for Admission Only for Attorneys Licensed in Jurisdictions That Offer Reciprocity to Pennsylvania Attorneys is Constitutional

National Ass’n for the Advancement of Multijurisdiction Practice (NAAMP) v. Castille, 799 F.3d 216 (3d Cir. 2015).  For many years, New Jersey has not offered “reciprocity” to allow attorneys licensed in other jurisdictions to become members of the New Jersey Bar without taking the Bar examination.  As a result, other jurisdictions will not provide reciprocity to attorneys licensed in New Jersey.  Pennsylvania is one of those jurisdictions, as provided in Pennsylvania Bar Admission Rule 204,

Two attorneys, one admitted in New Jersey and the other licensed in Maryland, both of which do not offer reciprocity to Pennsylvania attorneys, as well as an organization of which they are a part, the National Association for the Advancement of Multijurisdiction Practice (“NAAMP”) challenged Rule 204 by suing the Justices of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, who promulgated the rule, on various constitutional grounds.  The District Court granted summary judgment to defendants, and today the Third Circuit affirmed that ruling in an opinion by Judge Fuentes, which applied the de novo standard of review applicable to appeals from summary judgment rulings.

The District Court had found that both individual plaintiffs had standing, and that NAAMP had “associational standing.”  The Third Circuit agreed, but plaintiffs’ success ended there.  Judge Fuentes found no merit in plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment arguments under the Equal Protection and Privileges and Immunities Clauses.  Rational basis review applied, and Rule 204 does not classify attorneys based on residency or based on “inherently suspect distinctions such as race, religion, or alienage.”  Nor does the Rule “erect a barrier to migration.”  Instead, Rule 204 furthers Pennsylvania’s “legitimate interest in securing favorable treatment for attorneys admitted in Pennsylvania if and when they seek to join the bars of other states (which, in turn, might motivate more attorneys to seek admission in Pennsylvania, increasing access to legal services for citizens of the Commonwealth).”

Plaintiffs’ arguments under the First Amendment fared no better.  “Rule 204 does not reward, punish, or even acknowledge the content or viewpoint of any attorney’s speech.”  Instead, Judge Fuentes said, it is a “content-neutral licensing requirement for the practice of law,” which is rationally related to applicant’s ability to practice law.  Plaintiffs’ freedom of association claim failed because Rule 204 does not “require [plaintiffs] to associate with anyone, nor is it directed on its face at [their] expressive or associational activities.”

Judge Fuentes dismissed plaintiffs’ claim based on the right to petition the government in a single terse paragraph.  Plaintiffs’ arguments under Article IV’s Privileges and Immunities Clause and the Dormant Commerce Clause likewise fell flat.

In short, unless New Jersey provides reciprocity to Pennsylvania attorneys (and, years ago, New Jersey did provide reciprocity), attorneys licensed in New Jersey who seek admission to the Pennsylvania Bar must take the bar examination.  Today’s opinion finds nothing unconstitutional about that.