It is no excuse that the “client” — the unsuccessful presidential candidate’s reelection committee or local political allies — wanted to assert these contentions. A lawyer may not advance such contentions in court without having genuine factual grounds for them. Politicians may make outlandish claims or invent “alternative facts.” But lawyers may not ethically repeat in a lawsuit an assertion of fraud, unless they have first assured themselves that there is a sound factual basis for such a serious charge.

Core principles of professional ethics prohibit lawyers from becoming instruments in a campaign to use the courts to foment unfounded attacks on the integrity of the most basic institution of our democracy, the right of the people to select their leaders. Nor is it permissible to start a lawsuit propounding the client’s thesis, simply hoping that some support for the claim may turn up. The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct direct lawyers to refrain from bringing a proceeding “unless there is a basis in law or fact for doing so that is not frivolous.”

Most basically, the binding rules of professional behavior declare that it is “professional misconduct” to “engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” or to “engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.” The array of lawsuits filed in efforts to undermine the 2020 presidential election presented a veritable checklist of disregard for these professional standards.