In California, and most other states, attorneys are required to join the state bar association in order to practice law.
The California State Bar has a long history of engaging in political advocacy. In the 1980s, the Bar had a lobbyist on staff and the biggest event of the year was the Conference of Delegates, at which members proposed and advocated for new legislation on all manner of topics, favoring gun control, nuclear-free zones, and abortion; opposing school prayer, victims’ bill of rights, and lie detector tests; and so on. Of particular concern was the Bar’s support for the reelection of Rose Bird, the controversial Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court.
The Bar’s focus on political and ideological activism angered attorneys who were forced to subsidize the politicking that favored viewpoints with which they disagreed. Represented by Pacific Legal Foundation, 21 attorneys sued the Bar in 1982, arguing that the use of mandatory dues for politicking violated their First Amendment rights.
The case proceeded through California state courts, losing in the trial court, winning in the Court of Appeal, and losing at a divided California Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court of the United States then agreed to hear the case and delivered a unanimous win for our clients and for freedom of thought.
Quoting Thomas Jefferson’s view that “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical,” the Court held that people who are legally obligated to join trade or professional organizations cannot be forced to fund political or ideological activities that have nothing to do with regulating or managing their profession—such as lobbying—through mandatory dues.
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