McDonald v. Longley, No. 20-50448 (5th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs, three Texas attorneys, filed suit against officers and directors of the State Bar of Texas under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the Bar is engaged in political and ideological activities that are not germane to its interests in regulating the legal profession and improving the quality of legal services. Plaintiffs therefore allege that compelling them to join the Bar and subsidize those activities violates their First Amendment rights. The district court granted summary judgment to the Bar.
As a preliminary matter, the Fifth Circuit concluded that the Tax Injunction Act did not strip the district court of jurisdiction where neither membership fees and legal services fees are taxes. On the merits, the court vacated the district court's judgment, concluding that the district court erred in its reading of Lathrop v. Donahue, 367 U.S. 820 (1961), and Keller v. State Bar of California, 496 U.S. 1 (1990), and in its application of Keller's germaneness test on the Bar's activities. The court explained that Lathrop held that lawyers may constitutionally be mandated to join a bar association that solely regulates the legal profession and improves the quality of legal services; Keller identified that Lathrop did not decide whether lawyers may be constitutionally mandated to join a bar association that engages in other, nongermane activities; but Keller did not resolve that question. To determine whether compelling plaintiffs to join a bar that engages in non-germane activities violates their freedom of association, the court must decide (1) whether compelling plaintiffs to join burdens their rights and, (2) if so, whether it is nevertheless justified by a sufficient state interest.
The court explained that plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment on their freedom-of-association claim if the Bar is in fact engaged in non-germane activities. In this case, the Bar's legislative program is neither entirely germane nor wholly non-germane; the Bar's various diversity initiatives through OMA, though highly ideologically charged, are germane to the purposes identified in Keller; most, but not quite all, of the Bar's activities aimed at aiding the needy are germane; and miscellaneous activities—hosting an annual convention, running CLE programs, and publishing the Texas Bar Journal—are all germane. In sum, the Bar is engaged in non-germane activities, so compelling plaintiffs to join it violates their First Amendment rights. Furthermore, there are multiple other constitutional options. Assuming, arguendo, that plaintiffs can be required to join the Bar, compelling them to subsidize the Bar's non-germane activities violates their freedom of speech. The court also concluded that the Bar's procedures for separating chargeable from non-chargeable expenses is constitutionally inadequate under Chicago Teachers Union, Local No. 1, AFT, AFL-CIO v. Hudson, 475 U.S. 292 (1986).
Accordingly, the court rendered partial summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs and remanded to the district court to determine the full scope of relief to which plaintiffs are entitled. The court additionally reversed the denial of plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction and rendered a preliminary injunction preventing the Bar from requiring plaintiffs to join or pay dues pending completion of the remedies phase.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on July 6, 2021.