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Ending Mandatory Bar Association Fees

Schell v. Gurich

Case Status

Date Filed

March 27, 2019

Last Step

Tenth Circuit partially reversed dismissal of plaintiffs’ claims.

Next Step

To be determined.

Case Overview

In Oklahoma and 31 other states, attorneys are required to join and pay dues to a bar association to be allowed to practice law. All too often, those bar associations don’t just use members’ mandatory dues to make sure lawyers are qualified and behave ethically; they also use members’ money for political and ideological advocacy.

That violates lawyers’ First Amendment right to freedom of association and their right to choose what political speech they will and won’t support with their money. And it’s totally unnecessary. In 18 states, attorneys aren’t forced to join a bar association or pay money to a bar association to practice law—but the state still regulates attorneys, and attorneys still pay for the cost of that regulation. If those states can regulate the practice of law without forcing attorneys to surrender their First Amendment rights, then so can the others.

In Schell v. Gurich, the Goldwater Institute is representing Oklahoma attorney Mark E. Schell in a lawsuit asking the federal courts to declare that mandatory bar association membership and fees violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

This case follows two other Goldwater Institute lawsuits currently challenging mandatory membership and dues:

  • Fleck v. Wetch, challenging North Dakota’s mandatory bar, which the U.S. Supreme Court has ordered the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit to reconsider in light of the Supreme Court’s decision ending mandatory public-sector union fees in Janus v. AFSCME; and
  • Crowe v. Oregon State Bar, challenging Oregon’s mandatory bar.

Case Logistics

The plaintiff in this case is Mark E. Schell, an Oklahoma attorney who has been forced to join and pay dues to the Oklahoma Bar Association. The defendant is John Morris Williams, in his official capacity as Executive Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association.

The case was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma on March 26, 2019.

Mr. Schell seeks an order declaring mandatory bar membership and dues unconstitutional or, at a minimum, an order declaring that a bar association may not spend member dues on political speech without receiving a member’s clear, affirmative consent in advance.

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