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Protecting Attorneys’ Free Speech Rights

Pomeroy v. Utah State Bar

Case Status

Date Filed

April 13, 2021

Last Step

Filed complaint in Utah federal district court.

Next Step

Defendants to respond.

Case Overview

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

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 20 states, attorneys aren’t forced to pay fees to a bar association that can use their money for political speech—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 Utah and all the others.

In Utah, the law not only requires attorneys to join the Utah State Bar, but also makes them mandatory members of another private organizations, the Utah Bar Foundation, which uses interest from attorneys’ accounts for client funds and gives it to other legal organizations. Whatever the merits of the Foundation’s work, there can be no justification for requiring attorneys to become members just to practice law.

Also, Utah hasn’t provided that safeguards the Supreme Court has long required to ensure that attorneys’ money isn’t used for activities that aren’t related to regulating the legal profession or improving the quality of legal services.

In Pomeroy v. Utah State Bar, the Goldwater Institute is representing Utah attorney Amy Pomeroy in a lawsuit challenging: (1) the constitutionality of Utah’s requirement that attorneys join and pay fees to the Utah State Bar as a condition of practicing law; (2) the Utah State Bar’s failure to adopt safeguards to protect attorneys’ First Amendment rights; and (3) the state’s requirement that attorneys become members of the Utah Bar Foundation.

This case follows four other Goldwater Institute lawsuits that have challenged mandatory membership and dues or fees:

Case Logistics

The plaintiff in this case is Amy Pomeroy, a Utah attorney who has been forced to join and pay fees to the Utah State Bar. The defendants are the Utah State Bar and its board members, sued in their official capacities.

The case was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Utah on April 13, 2021.

Ms. Pomeroy’s lawsuit seeks to: (1) eliminate the requirements that attorneys join and pay fees to the Utah State Bar and become members of the Utah Bar Foundation as a condition of practicing law; or at least (2) obtain an injunction prohibiting the Utah State Bar from collecting mandatory fees until it enacts better safeguards to ensure that such fees aren’t used for political and ideological speech that isn’t germane to improving the quality of legal services and regulating the legal profession, as Supreme Court precedent requires.

Case Documents

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