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Keller v. State Bar of Cal.

Supreme Court of the United States

February 27, 1990, Argued ; June 4, 1990, Decided

No. 88-1905


 [*4]  [***8]  [**2231]    CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

 Petitioners, members of the State Bar of California, sued that body claiming its use of their membership dues [****7]  to finance certain ideological or political activities to which they were opposed violated their rights under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Supreme Court of California rejected this challenge on the grounds that respondent State Bar is a state agency, and as such may use the dues for any purpose within its broad statutory authority. We agree that lawyers admitted to practice in the State may be required to join and pay dues to the State Bar, but disagree as to the scope of permissible dues-financed activities in which respondent may engage.

Respondent State Bar is an organization created under California law to regulate the State's legal profession. 1 It is [*5]  an entity commonly referred to as an "integrated bar" -- an association of attorneys in which membership and dues are required as a condition of practicing law in a State. Respondent's broad statutory mission is to "promote 'the mrovement of the administration of justice.'" 47 Cal. 3d 1152, 1156, 767 P.2d 1020, 1021 (1989) (quoting Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code Ann. § 6031(a) (West Supp. 1990)). The association performs a variety of functions such as "examining applicants for admission, formulating rules [****8]  of professional conduct, disciplining members for misconduct, preventing unlawful practice of the law, and engaging in study and recommendation of changes in procedural law and improvement of the administration of justice." Id., at 1159, 767 P.2d, at 1023-1024 (quotation omitted). Respondent also engages in a number of other activities which are the subject of the dispute in this case. "The State Bar for many years has lobbied the Legislature and other governmental agencies, filed amicus curiae briefs in pending cases, held an annual conference of delegates at which issues of current interest are debated and resolutions approved, and engaged in a variety of education programs." Id., at 1156, 767 P.2d, at 1021-1022. These activities are financed principally through the use of membership dues.

 [****9]  Petitioners, 21 members of the State Bar, sued in state court claiming  [***9]  that through these activities respondent expends mandatory dues payments to advance political and ideological causes to which they do not subscribe. 2 Asserting [*6]  that their compelled  [**2232]  financial support of such activities violates their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association, petitioners requested, inter alia, an injunction restraining respondent from using mandatory bar dues or the name of the State Bar of California to advance political and ideological causes or beliefs. The trial court granted summary judgment to respondent on the grounds that it is a governmental agency and therefore permitted under the First Amendment to engage in the challenged activities. The California Court of Appeal reversed, holding that while respondent's regulatory activities were similar to those of a government agency, its "administration-of-justice" functions were more akin to the activities of a labor union. The court held that under our opinion in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209 (1977), such activities "could be financed from mandatory dues only if the particular action in  [****10]  question served a state interest important enough to overcome the interference with dissenters' First Amendment rights." 47 Cal. 3d, at 1159, 767 P.2d, at 1023.

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496 U.S. 1 *; 110 S. Ct. 2228 **; 110 L. Ed. 2d 1 ***; 1990 U.S. LEXIS 2862 ****; 58 U.S.L.W. 4661


Prior History:  [****1]  On Writ of Certiorari to the Supreme Court of California.

Disposition:  47 Cal. 3d 1152, 767 P.2d 1020, reversed and remanded.


employees, First Amendment, ideological, rights, government agency, compulsory, mandatory, funded, integrated bar, membership, regulation, lawyers, expenditures, financed, courts, legal profession, initiative, profession, functions, plurality, endorsed, causes, cases

Constitutional Law, Bill of Rights, Fundamental Freedoms, Freedom of Association, Governments, State & Territorial Governments, Licenses, Freedom of Speech, Political Speech, General Overview, Public Employees, Scope, Labor & Employment Law, Collective Bargaining & Labor Relations, Protected Activities