On Tuesday, as the Louisiana Legislature’s Committee on Civil Law heard testimony on the most highly anticipated bill of the session, legislators and spectators alike were surprised to see a representative of the Louisiana State Bar Association (LSBA) testifying in opposition to it. HB 9, the Omnibus Premium Reduction Act of 2020, is part of a package of reform bills aimed at improving the state’s broken legal system, stopping lawsuit abuse, and reducing insurance rates.
One person who was likely unsurprised to see the LSBA’s lobbyist was New Orleans attorney Randy Boudreaux. LSBA requires all licensed attorneys wishing to practice law in Louisiana to become members, and those member dues are then used to advocate for and against public policies that may or may not have anything to do with the practice of law. This means Louisiana lawyers are being forced to pay for other people’s political and ideological speech, which the First Amendment virtually never allows.
Last year, attorneys for the Pelican Institute and the Goldwater Institute joined New Orleans ethics lawyer and professor Dane S. Ciolino to file a lawsuit for Randy against the LSBA over this practice. Randy believes he and all Louisiana attorneys shouldn’t be forced to pay for a bar association’s political advocacy, and he joins an increasing number of attorneys around the country who are standing up for their free speech rights. Yesterday, the 9th Circuit heard oral arguments from an Oregon attorney challenging his state’s use of bar dues for its political speech, and there are cases currently pending in U.S. District Courts, and the 7th and 10th Circuits.
It’s important to note HB 9 is only one of 65 bills the LSBA has taken a position on for the 2020 session. For example, the LSBA is currently opposing bills that would establish the licensed profession of art therapist, update licensing requirements for funeral directors and embalmers, and allow for Louisiana EMTs and speech-language pathologists to obtain multistate license privileges. It doesn’t matter what Randy’s position is on these bills, if he has one. What matters is that the LSBA is violating Randy’s First Amendment rights by using his dues to fund its political speech on issues that have nothing to do with the organization’s supposed mission of advancing the legal profession.
Randy’s case is now pending before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. His lawsuit seeks relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. He believes he shouldn’t be compelled to associate with an organization that makes political statements on his behalf in order to practice in his chosen profession. This case will continue, and we are hopeful it will result in a declaration that lawyers have the same First Amendment rights as everyone else.