First Amendment

Suit challenges mandatory membership in state bar because of immigrant support, diversity initiatives

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Three Texas lawyers have filed a federal lawsuit claiming that mandatory membership in the State Bar of Texas violates their First Amendment right against coerced speech.

The March 6 suit contends that the Texas bar is using the plaintiffs’ dues for ideological or political activities that go beyond its function of regulating lawyers, report Courthouse News Service, the Am Law Litigation Daily and the SE Texas Record. Although the bar permits lawyers to opt out, the bar’s process is “woefully inadequate,” the suit says.

“An organization that collects compelled dues must require members to opt in to supporting political and ideological causes, rather than charging everyone the fee by default and expecting them to opt out,” the suit says.

The suit says the bar should not fund activities such as diversity initiatives, access to justice programs that help prevent deportations, and legislative drafting and advocacy. The suit also says the bar should not impose a $65 legal services fee on some private practice lawyers to fund legal aid programs. Those activities should be funded by voluntary contributions, the suit contends.

The suit cites Janus v. AFSCME, a Supreme Court decision last year holding that public employees cannot be compelled to pay union dues if they opt out of union membership, even if they reap benefits created by the union.

The suit is among at least four lawsuits that challenge mandatory state bar dues, according to the Am Law Litigation Daily. Two lawyers have filed a suit in Oregon. Another suit challenging mandatory bar membership in North Dakota reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which remanded the case in December to a federal appeals court to reconsider in light of Janus.

The Texas suit is McDonald v. Longley. The lead plaintiff is Tony McDonald, who is general counsel for the conservative group Empower Texans.

The State Bar of Texas gave this statement to the Am Law Litigation Daily and Courthouse News Service: “The State Bar of Texas is confident it is fulfilling all statutory responsibilities as the administrative arm of the Texas Supreme Court consistent with the court’s authority to regulate the legal profession. The pending legal action will be addressed accordingly.”

See also: “California Split: 1 year after nation’s largest bar became 2 entities, observers see positive change” “Oregon lawyers sue over mandatory bar dues in wake of Supreme Court’s union dues decision”

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