On August 22, the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit against the State Bar of Michigan for violating the First Amendment right to be free from compelled speech and to freely associate. Currently, the state of Michigan legally requires that attorneys must pay an annual bar association fee of $315. They must also become a member of the State Bar of Michigan, an association which spends money on speech and policy positions that some of its members may not be aligned with.
The plaintiff, Lucille Taylor, is a practicing attorney and has been forced by the State of Michigan to pay and associate with the State Bar of Michigan in order to practice law. She has a distinguished legal career, serving as Special Assistant Attorney General, Michigan Senate majority counsel, Michigan House of Representatives minority counsel and a governor’s chief legal counsel. She has also been a visiting professor at Ave Maria School of Law for the past 10 years. Since becoming a member of the State Bar in 1972, Taylor has been required to belong to an association whose policies and positions have not always aligned with her beliefs.
At least 20 states, including New York and California, do not have mandatory membership associations for attorneys. Lawyers in those states still pay fees to practice, but unlike in Michigan, they can voluntarily choose whether or not to become a member of an association. Approximately 60% of practicing lawyers in the United States reside in those 20 states. This clearly demonstrates that mandatory membership is unnecessary.
In September 2020, the federal district court dismissed the case and said that the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v AFSCME did not directly apply to the case. They also argued that only the Supreme Court could overturn the previous Supreme Court precedent surrounding bar associations and memberships. The case will be appealed to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.
On July 15th 2021, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Taylor and the Mackinac Center, citing Keller v. State Bar of California, a United States Supreme Court case from 1990. The Keller case, however heavily relied on a decision made in Abood v. Detroit Bd. Of Educ., a case that was overturned in the 2018 landmark case Janus v AFSCME. From here, the case will move to the United States Supreme court to see if they will grant a petition for certiorari.