Lawyers Sue Oregon State Bar for Free Speech Violations

By George Khoury, Esq. on September 05, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

On the heels of the Oregon State Bar issuing a $1.12 refund to members that requested one as a result of publishing political speech in the April issue of the bar's almost monthly "Bulletin," a pair of lawyers have filed a serious challenge to the Oregon Bar's collection of membership dues for political activity.

The lawyers' case relies on the recent SCOTUS decision in Janus v. American Federation, which held that public employees that opt-out of union membership cannot be compelled to pay dues. And while a state bar is not a union, per se, it's argued that it's similar enough, and the argument seems to be in line with Keller too.

From a $1.12 Refund to a First Amendment Challenge

In April of this year, the Oregon State Bar's "Bulletin" published two pieces, side-by-side, in response to the rising tensions surrounding white nationalism and extremism. One of the two pieces went as far as to document instances when President Trump was seen to be supporting hate groups.

Naturally, in these highly partisan times, a few attorneys were upset and complained about the publication. This led to the Bar issuing refunds of $1.12 to each member that requested one. The odd amount was determined by the cost of printing each issue. Curiously, only one of the two attorneys that filed suit claimed the nominal refund.

The lawsuit asserts that lawyers still need to be licensed, but that membership in the bar is (or should be) a different issue, particularly if the bar engages in political activities. The Oregon Bar has stated that it plans to defend this case as it believes that it has not crossed the line of its mission: protecting the public and promoting access to justice.

Despite the fact that these attorneys seemed to have had this response to the Bar denouncing extremism in favor of the rule of law (which seems reasonable for a public protection agency to do), this case courts a fascinating First Amendment issue.

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