Lawyer Sues Michigan State Bar, Claiming Mandatory Dues are Unconstitutional

An attorney is suing Michigan’s State Bar to abolish the requirement placed on all practicing lawyers to join the bar and pay its mandatory dues.

USA Today reports that Lucille Taylor, of Laingsburg, Michigan, filed a lawsuit on Thursday, August 22, 2019 arguing that the bar’s compulsory membership requirement violates her and other attorneys’ constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of association.

For most attorneys, membership to the state bar costs $315 a year. The bar currently has more than 40,000 members.

Taylor reiterated that she is “not hostile to the bar, I am not antagonistic.” She added, “I just don’t want to be a member, and I want other people who are similarly situated to be able to make that decision themselves.”

This lawsuit was inspired by  the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in June 2018 which established that public sector unions cannot collect fees from nonmembers in order to shoulder the costs of collective bargaining.

The aforementioned ruling overturned a precedent established in the 1977 case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which held that workers are not required to pay for unions’ political activities, but must still pay “fair share” fees for union expenses.

Interestingly, the 1977 decision played a critical role in a subsequent U.S. Supreme Court case, Keller v. State Bar of Michigan, which upheld mandatory bar dues.

Taylor filed her lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. She asserts that the state bar’s mandatory dues are similar in nature to union dues and fees that the Supreme Court overturned last year.

“With Abood out of the picture, we believe there is a very strong chance that Keller could also be overruled,” declared Taylor’s attorney, Derk Wilcox of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation.

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Taylor claims that the state bar uses membership dues to carry out activities and take political positions that not all members agree with. In her view, this is why mandatory dues violate attorneys’ free speech rights.

The attorney claims that at least 20 states, including California and New York, do not mandate bar membership as a prerequisite for practicing law. However, to be an attorney in those states, one must still pass a bar exam.

A case like this could be a major step in depriving a legacy institution like the bar of its rent-seeking benefits. This would help lower barriers to entry in the law practices and also bring more accountability through competition.