Two Wisconsin lawyers are suing the state bar, alleging that the dues they have to pay the organization violate their first amendment rights.
The lawyers suing the State Bar of Wisconsin, Michael Dean of Waukesha and former State Representative Adam Jarchow of Clear Lake, are both members. The two lawyers say the group is advocating for political positions they don’t like, and they’re being forced to pay for it with their dues.
All attorneys who hold a Wisconsin law license are required to join the state bar and pay annual dues of a few hundred dollars. The plaintiffs say these requirements are unconstitutional – and they’re asking the court to strike them down. They are also asking the state bar to refund the dues they paid.
One of the lawyers representing them, Richard Esenberg of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, says the issue at hand is that the state bar is using funds to advocate for ideas with which his clients disagree.
“A problem that arises is that the association engages in expressive activity, and is a constitutional problem presented if lawyers are forced to join an organization they do not wish to join, potentially violating their freedom of association, and is a constitutional problem presented if lawyers are forced to pay dues that fund speech with which they disagree,” Esenberg says.
Esenberg cites a recent U.S. Supreme Court case that found mandatory public sector union fees violate First Amendment free speech rights.
“The issue there was whether public employees could be compelled to support–not join–but to support a public employee union even if they did not agree with their expressive activity,” Esenberg says. “For about 40 years it had been the rules that it was okay for state law to require this as long as certain overtly political forms of speech were excepted from what these members could be charged for. And in the Janus case, the United States Supreme Court reversed that rule. It’s just inherently a violation of the first amendment’s freedom of speech and freedom of association to compel people to support this activity.”
The lawyers allege that the state bar proposes legislation, advocates on public policy issues, and publishes material on “matters of intense public controversy.” According to the lawsuit, these actions include advocacy on tax policy, immigration laws, criminal justice and abortion.
The State Bar of Wisconsin didn’t comment by press time. A spokesperson says the organization will be releasing a statement later today.
WORT’s Martin Rakacolli reported this story.