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Supreme Court of the United States
January 16, 1978, Argued ; May 30, 1978, Decided
[****6] [*414] [***423] [**1895] MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.
We consider on this appeal whether a State may punish a member of its Bar who, seeking to further political and ideological goals through associational activity, including litigation, advises a lay person of her legal rights and discloses in a subsequent letter that free legal assistance is available from a nonprofit organization with which the lawyer and her associates are affiliated. Appellant, a member of the Bar of South Carolina, received a public reprimand for writing such a letter. The appeal is opposed by the State Attorney General, on behalf of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline of the Supreme [**1896] Court of South Carolina. As this appeal presents a substantial question under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, as interpreted in NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415 (1963), we noted probable jurisdiction.
Appellant, Edna Smith Primus, is a lawyer practicing in Columbia, [****7] S. C. During the period in question, she was associated with the "Carolina [***424] Community Law Firm," 2 and was an officer of and cooperating lawyer with the Columbia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). 3 [****8] She received [*415] no compensation for her work on behalf of the ACLU, 4 but was paid a retainer as a legal consultant for the South Carolina Council on Human Relations (Council), a nonprofit organization with offices in Columbia.
During the summer of 1973, local and national newspapers reported that pregnant mothers on public assistance in Aiken County, S. C., were being sterilized or threatened with sterilization as a condition of the continued receipt of medical assistance under the Medicaid program. 5 Concerned by this development, Gary Allen, an Aiken businessman and officer of a local organization serving indigents, called the Council requesting that one of its representatives come to Aiken to address some of the women who had been sterilized. At the Council's behest, appellant, who had not known Allen previously, called him and arranged a meeting in his office in July 1973. Among those attending was Mary Etta Williams, who had been sterilized by Dr. Clovis H. Pierce after the birth of her third child. Williams [****9] and her grandmother attended the meeting because Allen, an old family friend, had invited [*416] them and because Williams wanted "[to] see what it was all about . . . ." App. 41-42. At the meeting, appellant advised those present, including Williams and the other women who had been sterilized by Dr. Pierce, of their legal rights and suggested the possibility of a lawsuit.
Early in August 1973 the ACLU informed appellant that it was willing to provide representation for Aiken mothers who had been sterilized. 6 Appellant testified that after being advised by Allen that Williams wished to institute suit against Dr. Pierce, she decided to inform Williams of the ACLU's offer of free legal representation. Shortly after receiving appellant's letter, dated [***425] August 30, 1973 7 -- the centerpiece of [**1897] this [*417] litigation -- Williams visited [****10] Dr. Pierce to discuss the progress of her third child who was ill. At the doctor's office, she encountered his lawyer and at the latter's request signed a release of liability in the doctor's favor. Williams showed appellant's letter to the doctor and his lawyer, and they retained a copy. She then called appellant from the doctor's office and announced her intention not to sue. There was no further communication between appellant and Williams.
Full case includes Shepard's, Headnotes, Legal Analytics from Lex Machina, and more.
436 U.S. 412 *; 98 S. Ct. 1893 **; 56 L. Ed. 2d 417 ***; 1978 U.S. LEXIS 28 ****
IN RE PRIMUS
Prior History: [****1] APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF SOUTH CAROLINA.
Disposition: 268 S. C. 259, 233 S. E. 2d 301, reversed.
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