Federal Court Rules Louisiana’s Mandatory Bar Dues Violate First Amendment
The Pelican Institute Center for Justice, joined by the Goldwater Institute and Loyola College of Law professor Dane Ciolino, just scored a major court victory for freedom of speech and association. On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that Louisiana must stop forcing New Orleans attorney Randy Boudreaux to pay mandatory bar association dues as a condition of practicing law. After the Pelican and Goldwater Institutes challenged Louisiana’s unconstitutional requirements on Randy’s behalf, the court held that the state cannot compel him to pay dues to a state bar association that engages in any activities that are not “inherently connected” to regulating the legal profession or improving the quality of legal services.
“I’m pleased that the 5th Circuit takes the freedoms of speech and association seriously,” Randy said, expressing hope that “professionals will enjoy more autonomy from compelled associations.”
Louisiana is one of dozens of states that force lawyers to join their state’s privately run bar associations. The Louisiana State Bar Association (LSBA) uses its members’ dues—and the clout and prestige it gains from claiming all 20,000 lawyers in the state as members—to engage in a wide variety of activities, many of which have nothing to do with ensuring attorneys are qualified and behave ethically.
Those so-called “nongermane” activities range from the controversial to the banal and include things like advocating public policy positions, promoting subjects like “LGBT Pride Month,” supporting government-subsidized student debt forgiveness, encouraging “community involvement” (i.e., attendance at certain religious observances and favored charities), and offering life coaching and “wellness” advice. But these often politically controversial activities are not inherently connected to the state’s professed need to “regulate lawyers.”
This means that lawyers, whether they like it or not, are forced to subsidize and be associated with speech and activities they may not even support. And that’s unconstitutional.
Randy Boudreaux had enough. Represented by Pelican and Goldwater, he filed suit, asking a federal district court to rule that the LSBA violated his First Amendment right not to be forced to subsidize and associate with these so-called “nongermane” activities. He recognized that activities that might appear benign to one person—like promoting certain charities, community activities, or personal “wellness—might seem noxious or ideological to another. The Fifth Circuit agreed and remanded his case back to the district court, directing the lower court to fashion a more comprehensive, and permanent, injunction to stop the LSBA from trampling on his constitutional rights.
“Randy’s principled pursuit of free association and free speech led to a major victory for both in the Fifth Circuit – we were honored to stand beside him in that battle every step of the way and look forward to the day even lawyers can be free,” Pelican Institute Attorney James Baehr said.
The appeals court didn’t stop there. Requiring lawyers—or any other worker—to join an association just to do their job rests on legal precedent that the court characterized as “moth-eaten foundations.”
“We are inspired by clients like Randy, who are willing to stand up for their first amendment rights against licensing boards. And we are encouraged by the Fifth Circuit’s willingness to put a stop to political advocacy disguised as benign advice,” Attorney Sarah Harbison added.
Read the Fifth Circuit’s ruling here.
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