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The standard for determining permissible expenditures for the state bar are whether the challenged expenditures are necessarily or reasonably incurred for the purpose of regulating the legal profession or improving the quality of the legal service available to the people of the state.
Respondent State Bar of California is an "integrated bar" -- i.e., an association of attorneys in which membership and dues are required as a condition of practicing law -- created under state law to regulate the State's legal profession. In fulfilling its broad statutory mission to "promote the improvement of the administration of justice," the Bar uses its membership dues for self-regulatory functions, such as formulating rules of professional conduct and disciplining members for misconduct. It also uses dues to lobby the legislature and other governmental agencies, file amicus curiae briefs in pending cases, hold an annual delegates conference for the debate of current issues and the approval of resolutions, and engage in educational programs. Petitioners, State Bar members, brought suit in state court claiming that through these latter activities the Bar expends mandatory dues payments to advance political and ideological causes to which they do not subscribe, in violation of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association. They requested, inter alia, an injunction restraining the Bar from using mandatory dues or its name to advance political and ideological causes or beliefs. The court granted summary judgment to the Bar on the grounds that it is a governmental agency and therefore permitted under the First Amendment to engage in the challenged activities. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that, while the Bar'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. Relying on the analysis of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209 -- which prohibits the agency-shop dues of dissenting nonunion employees from being used to support political and ideological union causes that are unrelated to collective-bargaining activities -- the court held that the Bar's activities could be financed from mandatory dues only if a particular action served a state interest important enough to overcome the interference with dissenters' First Amendment rights. The State Supreme Court reversed, reasoning that the Bar was a "government agency" that could use its dues for any purpose within the scope of its statutory authority, and that subjecting the Bar's activities to First Amendment scrutiny would place an "extraordinary burden" on its statutory mission. With the exception of certain election campaigning, the court found that all of the challenged activities fell within the Bar's statutory authority.
Did the use by state's integrated bar of mandatory dues to fund political and ideological activities not germane to regulating legal profession or improving quality of legal services violate members' free speech rights?
The district court granted summary judgment to the bar, and the appellate court reversed. The state supreme court reversed, holding that the bar's status as a regulated state agency exempted it from any constitutional constraints on the use of its dues. The Court granted the members' petition for writ of certiorari, holding that the bar could constitutionally fund activities germane to its goals of regulating the legal profession and improving the quality of legal services out of the mandatory dues of all members. Thus, the members had no valid constitutional objection to their dues being spent for activities connected with disciplining members of the bar or proposing ethical codes for the profession because such activities were germane to the bar's goals. However, compulsory dues could not be expended to endorse or advance a gun control or a nuclear weapons freeze because they were activities of an ideological nature that fell outside of activities germane to the bar's goals.