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Nebraska Lawyer's Lawsuit Against State Bar Association Will Go Forward

DENVER - A Nebraska federal district court on Feb. 4 refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a Nebraska attorney who sued the Nebraska State Bar Association in federal district court in Lincoln charging that it violates his rights under both the Constitution's First and 14th Amendments. The State Bar Association had sought to dismiss the case. Scott Lautenbaugh, an Omaha attorney and Nebraska State Senator, alleges that the association's use of his annual membership dues for political and ideological purposes constitutes government-compelled speech. The Association is an integrated bar, that is, membership is mandatory for all attorneys who practice in Nebraska. Lautenbaugh filed a petition with the Nebraska Supreme Court asking that it "de-integrate the bar," that is, make membership in the bar voluntary; in July 2012, the court noticed the need for further study and in September 2012 sought association documents.

"We are pleased the district court held that the proceeding before the Nebraska Supreme Court is a legislative and not a judicial inquiry; therefore, it is not a 'parallel proceeding' and this case may proceed," said William Perry Pendley of Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF); MSLF represents Lautenbaugh. "Mr. Lautenbaugh's constitutional claims will be heard."

Membership in the Nebraska State Bar Association is mandatory for all attorneys who practice law in the State. Member's dues of $345 annually is used, not only to regulate, discipline, and educate attorneys, but also to support a "Legislative Program," which includes "the initiation, support, opposition, or comment on legislative matters," at both [state and local] levels. During the last two years, for example, the Legislative Program has lobbied on over 100 bills alone, including opposition to legislation: expanding concealed carry permit rights, restricting eminent domain, and eliminating statutes of limitations for some felonies.

Lautenbaugh believes, because he is required to be a member of the State Bar Association, the use of his dues for political and ideological purposes constitutes government-compelled speech and violates his First and 14th Amendment rights. Moreover, because the bar association requires him to opt out of paying dues it uses for lobbying purposes, rather than providing him the opportunity to opt in, it appears to violate Knox. The Supreme Court held that the constitutional requirements regarding unions also apply to bar associations, but the applicability of other aspects of Knox to the Nebraska case remain to be determined. Unlike other States, when a Nebraska member "opts-out" of political expenditures, that portion of the dues is not refunded but is used for other purposes.

Mountain States Legal Foundation, created in 1977, is a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system. Its offices are in suburban Denver. 

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