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SCOTUS asked to nix mandatory bar association dues in two petitions

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The sun sets at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis

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  • Lawyers say ruling on union fees applies to bar associations
  • Cases target political activity by Texas, Oklahoma groups
  • Court turned away Wisconsin case last year

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(Reuters) - Lawyers in Texas and Oklahoma are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider its 1990 decision upholding requirements that lawyers pay dues to state bar associations, saying compulsory dues improperly subsidize political speech.

In two separate petitions filed with the justices last week, lawyers from Jones Day, Consovoy McCarthy and the conservative Goldwater Institute, who represent the plaintiffs, urged the Supreme Court to extend its 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME. That decision limited mandatory public-sector union fees to dues charged by bar associations.

The Supreme Court last year declined to take up a similar challenge to mandatory bar dues in Wisconsin.

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At least 30 states require lawyers to join their bar associations and pay dues in order to practice. The Supreme Court in the 1990 case Keller v. State Bar of California upheld those requirements, ruling that states have a compelling interest in regulating the legal profession.

The new petitions ask the court to review rulings from the 5th and 10th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals that said Janus did not overrule Keller, even if it did call the logic behind the ruling into question.

The plaintiffs in both cases claim their bar associations used compulsory dues to lobby on controversial issues that were not directly related to the legal profession.

The Oklahoma Bar Association, for instance, published articles criticizing campaign contributions by special interest groups, and the Texas State Bar Association openly supported a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, according to the petitions.

The plaintiffs said that since Keller, bar groups have become more involved in politically charged issues such as immigration and criminal justice reform. But many of their members oppose that activity and should not be compelled to subsidize it, they said.

The cases are Schell v. Oklahoma Supreme Court Justices, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 21-779, and McDonald v. Firth, U.S. Supreme Court, number not available.

For Mark Schell: Anthony Dick of Jones Day; Jacob Huebert of the Goldwater Institute

For the Texas plaintiffs: Jeffrey Harris of Consovoy McCarthy

For the Texas Bar: Thomas Leatherbury and Pat Mizell of Vinson & Elkins

For the Oklahoma Bar Association: Daniel Volchok of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr

Read more:

Janus doesn't block mandatory bar association dues - 10th Circuit

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.

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