Union Station: Lawyers file class action complaint against State Bar of Texas

Lawyers file class action complaint against State Bar of Texas

On Aug. 30, three members of the State Bar of Texas filed a class action complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas alleging that the bar is violating their First Amendment rights. 

About the complaint 

The plaintiffs are attorneys Robert S. Bennett, Nachael Foster, and Andrew Bayley. Their complaint is a class action suit on behalf of “all Texas-licensed attorneys, past or present, and on either active or inactive status, who have endured First Amendment violations because of the Texas Bar’s relevant unlawful conduct.” Richard A. Robins, who runs the website texasbarsunset.com, represents the plaintiffs. The complaint names the Texas Bar “and culpable officials within it” as defendants. 

The complaint references the Fifth Circuit’s July 2021 ruling in McDonald v. Longley. In that case, a three-judge panel ruled that because the Texas Bar engaged in ideological activities that were not relevant to its core functions, compelling lawyers to join the bar violated their First Amendment rights. 

Referring to that decision, the complaint states that the Fifth Circuit “ruled that the Defendants have impermissibly, unlawfully and enduringly spent attorney members’ coercively extracted annual dues on ideological and political endeavors that are not germane to regulating or improving the practice of law here in Texas.” The plaintiffs allege the bar has “continued demanding full dues payments from the membership by no later than [August 31, 2021]. As of the date of this filing, they have also offered no refunds for their already sufficiently proven and established transgressions. They continue proceeding callously, resulting in further damage to the Class.” 

The plaintiffs allege that by requiring members to pay dues, the bar violates their freedoms of association, speech, and—in some cases—religion.

Reuters reports: “Texas Bar spokesman Amy Starnes said the association is committed to complying with the 5th Circuit decision in a timely manner, and is taking steps to update its policies and procedures. She said the new complaint is being reviewed.” 

The case name and number are Bennett v. Texas (4:21-cv-02829).

About McDonald v. Longley

On March 6, 2019, plaintiffs Tony McDonald, Joshua Hammer, and Mark Pulliam filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas claiming mandatory membership in the State Bar of Texas violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The plaintiffs alleged that the bar’s opt-out process was “inadequate to ensure that members are not coerced into funding the Bar’s political and ideological activities.”

On May 29, 2020, the U.S. District Court ruled in the state bar’s favor. The plaintiffs appealed to the Fifth Circuit in June 2020.  

On July 2, 2021, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit—Judges Don Willett, Jerry E. Smith, and Stuart Kyle Duncan—overturned the district court’s ruling and returned the case to the lower court, saying the bar “engaged in non-germane activities, so compelling the plaintiffs to join it violates their First Amendment rights.” The Fifth Circuit blocked the state bar from requiring membership or dues of the plaintiffs while the case is pending in the lower court. President Donald Trump (R) appointed Willett and Duncan, and President Ronald Reagan (R) appointed Smith.  

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 99 pieces of legislation dealing with public-sector employee union policy. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking. 

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s) 

Recent legislative actions

Below is a complete list of relevant legislative actions taken since our last issue. 

  • Illinois HB2521: This bill allows electronic signatures on petitions submitted for selecting an exclusive bargaining representative. It allows certification elections to be conducted electronically. It also prohibits an employer from promising or taking action against an employee for participating in a strike.
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Governor approved Aug. 27; effective immediately. 
  • New York S07355: This bill would prevent public employers from firing or disciplining public employees who were selected to represent an employee organization or who commented on related matters.
    • Democratic sponsorship.  
    • Referred to Senate Rules Committee Aug. 30.