WILMIC News & Risk Management Articles

U.S. Supreme Court Won’t Hear Challenge To Mandatory State Bar of Wisconsin Membership

United States Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court has decided not to take up the case challenging mandatory membership in the State Bar of Wisconsin. Under Wisconsin Supreme Court Rule 10.01, all Wisconsin lawyers must be members of the State Bar of Wisconsin, and pay dues, in order to practice law in the state.

In 2018, the Supreme Court affirmed in Janus v. AFSCME the right to freedom of speech and association. The Justices held that government employees who are not members of government-worker unions cannot be forced to pay union dues which go toward political advocacy. The current challenge, Jarchow v. State Bar of Wisconsin, tried to build on the Court’s ruling in Janus. The plaintiffs in Jarchow claimed that mandatory bar association fees can no longer be justified in light of Janus.

The Supreme Court case that has justified mandatory bar membership and dues payments is Keller v. State Bar of California. That decision said that state bars could levy mandatory fees and that members could object specifically to fees that go to particularly ideological causes. That is the Keller dues reduction option that Wisconsin lawyers are offered each year on their dues statements.

Wisconsin attorneys Adam Jarchow and Michael Dean asked the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit the Keller decision. They asserted that Keller should be overturned in light of the Janus decision.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Jarchow and Dean by the Wisconsin Institute of Law & Liberty (WILL) originated in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb dismissed the case against the State Bar, noting that the Keller case still prevails in the mandatory bar context. Jarchow and Dean argue that Janus now controls in the mandatory state bar context.

Currently, thirty-two states, including the State Bar of Wisconsin, have unified or mandatory bar associations, requiring lawyers to belong to the bar in order to practice law.

The State Bar is also defending against a similar lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. That case is still pending.