MIDLAND, MICH. — The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit today against the State Bar of Michigan for violating the First Amendment right to freely associate and be free from compelled political speech.
The state of Michigan mandates that practicing attorneys pay an annual bar association fee of $315 and maintain membership in the State Bar of Michigan, a state agency. A portion of the fees goes towards legitimate purposes, including discipline boards and attorney grievance commissions. The remaining fees, however, can be spent on political speech and used to support policy positions that members may wish not to support.
The plaintiff, Lucille Taylor, is a practicing attorney and has been required by the state of Michigan to pay and associate with the State Bar 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.
Many licensed professions have associations that people can willingly join. No other licensed profession in Michigan requires an association membership in order to practice that profession. Just as doctors can choose to join the Michigan State Medical Society and public school teachers can choose to belong to the Michigan Education Association, attorneys should be able to choose whether to be a member of the State Bar.
“In order to practice law over the past 48 years, I’ve been compelled to be a member of an organization that speaks for me, regardless of whether or not I share its beliefs,” said Lucille Taylor. “Lawyers in their personal and professional capacities hold and articulate a diverse set of opinions, and yet the State Bar’s policies and positions become attributed to all of Michigan’s 45,000-plus lawyers.”
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 Janus v. AFSCME, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that forcing public employees to pay union dues was a violation of their First Amendment rights. This suit argues that requiring attorneys to pay mandatory fees and associate with the State Bar is no different and should also be found unconstitutional.
“Since the passage of right-to-work in Michigan and the recent decision in Janus v. AFSCME, I expected the State Bar of Michigan itself to initiate measures to become a voluntary membership organization, which it has failed to do,” said Taylor. “Thanks to the Janus decision, public agencies can no longer require a captive membership. Attorneys should be free to choose whom they associate with as well.”
View the complaint here.
Learn more about the case here.
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