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Goldwater Petitions AZ Supreme Court to Safeguard Attorneys’ Right to Earn a Living

January 10, 2024

Under the U.S. Constitution, Americans have the right to earn a living in the profession of their choice—free from burdensome government regulations, and without being forced to fund political speech that they oppose. While the Goldwater Institute has led the way in cutting burdensome bureaucratic red tape for thousands of experienced, licensed professionals in Arizona, needless mandates still make it difficult for attorneys to work, regardless of their qualifications.

That’s why the Goldwater Institute filed a pair of petitions (here and here) with the Arizona Supreme Court today urging the high court to amend its rules surrounding lawyer regulation—rules that violate lawyers’ First Amendment rights and their right to earn a living.

Mandatory Bar Membership:

Goldwater’s first petition asks the Arizona Supreme Court to amend those rules that fund political, ideological, and needless activities imposed by the State Bar of Arizona—specifically by eliminating all bar activities that are unrelated to regulating the legal profession.

As a condition of practicing law in Arizona, lawyers are required to join the State Bar of Arizona and pay annual membership fees. This fee pays for things like attorney admissions and discipline. But it also pays for numerous unnecessary activities that are either political in nature or have no connection with the practice of law. In short, the State Bar of Arizona acts more like a trade association or a special interest group than as an administering body for the regulation of lawyers.

For example, many attorneys do not wish to be forced into state bar membership, yet the bar uses compulsory dues to oppose any measures seeking to make membership voluntary. Moreover, mandatory bar dues fund activities that have no connection to the practice of law, including arts competitions; social media posts about trivia, memes, and coloring pages; trivia nights; movie clubs; picnics; and self-kindness and wellness tips. No individual should have to risk their livelihood because they do not want to fund monthly reminders to breathe.

Perhaps most importantly, the 24,000 attorneys who are members of the state bar have diverse beliefs, interests, and political views. The state bar practically cannot and lawfully may not be in the business of trying to speak for the entirety of its compulsory membership. Other skilled professionals, like engineers, are required to obtain licenses and are regulated by the Arizona Board of Technical Registration, but they are not required to join the Arizona Society of Professional Engineers or subsidize its lobbying to practice as an engineer. Lawyers who simply want the same First Amendment rights as everyone else should not be forced to pay for superfluous activities with no connection to the practice of law, just so they can earn a living.

Universal Licensing:

Goldwater’s second petition asks the Arizona Supreme Court to make it easier for attorneys who are already licensed in other states to also practice in Arizona, explaining that the current obstacles to licensing for lawyers moving to Arizona from a different state are contradicted by the general tenor of existing Arizona policy.

In 2019, Goldwater supported a first-in-the-nation universal recognition of occupational licensing in Arizona that allows new arrivals to the state to quickly get back to work. Already, over 8,000 licenses have been granted under the new law across dozens of fields. While this reform covers over 60 licensed occupations, including in the medical field, it does not apply to lawyers. Goldwater’s petition asks the Supreme Court to support Arizona’s public policy on universal recognition for attorneys, too.

After all, lawyers don’t forget how to practice law when they move to a new state—but the costly and time-consuming re-licensing process only generates unnecessary barriers and ultimately drives up costs for legal services.

Goldwater is working hard to ensure lawyers in Arizona enjoy the same economic freedom as other skilled professionals. These proposed amendments will remove unnecessary burdens and fees and bolster constitutional rights—helping enrich Arizona with competent lawyers and increase accessibility of legal services to all Arizonans.

You can read our rule petitions to the Arizona Supreme Court here and here.

Stacy Skankey is a Staff Attorney at the Goldwater Institute.



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