Fight escalates over requirement lawyers support agenda-driven bar associations


Lawyers are required to join – and pay huge sums to – state bar associations.

But what happens when a bar association goes off on a tangent that does not related to the betterment of the legal profession? What happens when it turns political, and advocates for a goal its members don’t want?

That issue is pending before the Supreme Court now and the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty has filed a friend-of-the-court brief insisting that that compelled membership is wrong.

The case was brought by Schuyler File, who is represented by the lawyers at Liberty Justice Center.

He is arguing that forcing Wisconsin lawyers to choose between practicing their profession or funding a group with which they disagree fails the Constitution’s requirements for free speech and free association.

“There is no special exception in the First Amendment for attorneys,” said WILL Deputy Counsel Anthony LoCoco.

“Forcing objecting attorneys to join and fund an organization that engages in speech with which they disagree is contrary to fundamental values of free speech and free association. If the state bar wants members, it should have to earn their support.”

The case comes in the shadow of the 2018 decision by the high court in Janus v. AFSCME that the right to freedom of speech and association includes the right to decline to speak and to decline to associate. That decision affected government employees.

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“But to practice law in Wisconsin, attorneys must join and pay membership dues to the state bar association, the State Bar of Wisconsin. The state bar then uses this money to engage in speech on a variety of matters of public interest,” WILL reported.

A similar argument arose in 2019, but at that time the Supreme Court did not intervene in the case.

“This issue is now back before the Supreme Court thanks to lawyers at the Liberty Justice Center. Petitioner Schuyler File lost before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin and the Seventh Circuit under governing Supreme Court case law, and the Supreme Court is now considering whether to accept review of the issue,” WILL explained.

Will said the bar now is little more than a “trade association,” and that membership should be voluntary.

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