Phoenix—Goldwater Institute lawyers today filed a new lawsuit in Oregon to defend the free-speech rights of attorneys who are forced by state law to join bar associations. The case, brought on behalf of Oregon attorneys Daniel Crowe and Lawrence Peterson and a nonprofit organization that seeks to protect Oregon attorneys’ free-speech rights, Oregon Civil Liberties Attorneys, argues that the Constitution does not allow states to force lawyers to join a bar association and pay annual dues to support that association, in order to practice law.
Like 31 other states, Oregon forces lawyers to join a bar association and pay mandatory member dues—which in many instances don’t just go toward regulating the legal profession or protecting clients: They’re often used to fund political activities and advocacy that many bar members disagree with.
In the Oregon case, state officials chose to use the mandatory member dues to publish an article in an issue of the state bar’s magazine that criticized an elected official. That’s political speech, and Oregon lawyers shouldn’t be forced to fund it when they disagree.
In its lawsuit, Goldwater is seeking an end to the unconstitutional requirement that attorneys join and fund a bar association as a prerequisite to practicing law. “All Americans have the right to choose which groups we join and the political ideas we will and won’t support with our money. But in Oregon and too many other states, attorneys are being denied that right,” said Goldwater Institute Senior Attorney Jacob Huebert. “Also, mandatory state bar membership isn’t even necessary to regulate the legal profession. After all, eighteen states—including New York, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania—don’t require it. If they can operate without a mandatory state bar, all states can.”
Oregon is not the only place where this type of violation of attorneys’ freedom of speech and association is being questioned. Last week, the Goldwater Institute secured an important national victory for free speech, when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a lower court ruling that allowed states to force lawyers to subsidize state bar associations. In that case, Fleck v. Wetch, North Dakota attorney Arnold Fleck had been forced to pay member dues that his bar association used to oppose a ballot measure he supported. The justices ordered the lower court to reconsider in light of the landmark Janus v. AFSCME decision, which held that government must get consent from workers before taking union dues from their paychecks, because unions inevitably use member dues for political speech.
“With the recent Janus and Fleck decisions, the Supreme Court has shown its commitment to protecting freedom of speech and association,” Huebert said. “Just as government employees recently regained their right to choose in the Janus case, attorneys might soon see their First Amendment rights restored as well.”
The plaintiffs are represented by the Goldwater Institute and by Salem, Oregon, attorney Luke D. Miller.
Read more about Crowe v. Oregon State Bar here.
About the Goldwater Institute
The Goldwater Institute drives results by working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and strengthen the freedom guaranteed to all Americans in the constitutions of the United States and all 50 states. With the blessing of its namesake, the Goldwater Institute opened in 1988. Its early years focused on defending liberty in Barry Goldwater’s home state of Arizona. Today, the Goldwater Institute is a national leader for constitutionally limited government respected by the left and right for its adherence to principle and real world impact. No less a liberal icon than the New York Times calls the Goldwater Institute a “watchdog for conservative ideals” that plays an “outsize role” in American political life.