State Bar Can’t Force Dues, Court Rules


The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that the California Bar Assn. may not force lawyers to pay dues to support political causes and lobbying that they oppose.

The ruling is a victory for 21 conservative attorneys who challenged the state bar’s political stance as a violation of their constitutional rights to free speech.

Diane Yu, general counsel for the bar association, said the ruling may force the bar to cut dues for some members, but the reductions would be “quite small.”

The state’s 125,000 attorneys are required by law to pay dues--now $440 a year--to the bar association. About four-fifths of this money is used to investigate and discipline lawyers, state bar officials said. But for years, the state bar delegates had voted to have the association take stands on judges or propositions appearing on the state ballot, a process that involved the expenditure of a small amount of money.


Last year, the California Supreme Court ruled that the state bar may not involve itself in election campaigns, but it upheld the use of bar funds to support political lobbying in Sacramento or to take positions on ballot propositions.

But in Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote that lawyers may not be forced to pay dues to support any bar activities that are political or ideological in nature.