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Goldwater Fights for Free Speech in Oregon Federal Court

April 4, 2024

The Goldwater Institute was in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals this week to continue protecting our First Amendment rights, delivering oral arguments in defense of Oregon lawyers who have been forced to pay mandatory bar association dues as a condition of practicing law.

In Oregon and about half the states, the law requires lawyers to join their state’s privately run bar associations, which use their members’ dues to engage in a host of controversial activities. Although these mandatory bars are ostensibly about “regulating lawyers,”—i.e., licensing, establishing ethical rules, and disciplining—mission creep inevitably leads to mandatory bars engaging in conduct unrelated to the regulation of lawyers. This can include activities like lobbying legislatures on bills that seek to change state law, disseminating and amplifying news and viewpoints of which the bar approves, and entertaining the latest ideological fads like “anti-racism” and diversity training.


In Oregon on behalf of Daniel Crowe and the Oregon Civil Liberties Attorneys, the Goldwater Institute sued the Oregon State Bar and its officials in federal district court because the bar was engaged in these kinds of “non-germane” activities. This included publishing a statement blaming then-President Donald Trump and his supporters for violence. It also included numerous instances where the bar sought to change the laws of the state in ways completely unrelated to lawyer regulation.

When mandatory bar associations stray from their strictly regulatory purpose, they violate the associational rights of their members. That’s because the government cannot compel anyone to join, and thereby associate with, an organization that engages in such conduct.

At first, the district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims, but the Ninth Circuit reversed the decision in part because it determined that the plaintiffs had stated a viable cause of action related to the violation of plaintiffs’ associational rights. After the case was returned to the district court, it dismissed the plaintiffs’ freedom of association claim, ruling that the statement about then-President Trump and the lobbying activities were in fact “germane” to the bar’s purpose.

Now, Goldwater is taking this case back to the Ninth Circuit to seek a ruling similar to the victory the Institute recorded in Louisiana late last year, when the Fifth Circuit determined that the Louisiana State Bar Association had violated an attorney’s associational rights when it engaged in non-germane activities by promoting “wellness,” bar-favored charities, and LGBT Pride Month.

Goldwater will continue to defend the First Amendment and challenge these unconstitutional requirements in states around the nation. After all, no one should have to pay for other people’s politics just to pursue their profession.

You can watch the oral arguments here, or below:

Scott Day Freeman is a Senior Attorney at the Goldwater Institute.



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