A New Orleans lawyer, with help from two conservative advocacy groups, is suing to overturn Louisiana’s requirement that attorneys must join the state bar association.

Randy Boudreaux said he has been a lawyer for 23 years, focusing on insurance and real estate work. Like all practicing attorneys in Louisiana, he is required by the Louisiana Supreme Court to be a member of the Louisiana State Bar Association.

He said it has always bothered him that his association dues support the bar association’s political activism, whether or not he supports the association's position on a given issue.

“The most important freedom is freedom of speech,” Boudreaux said. “That also means freedom from compelled speech.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year in Janus v. AFSCME that public employees don’t have to pay fees to unions as a condition of employment. Boudreaux said that decision opens the door for his suit, which was filed Thursday at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans.

Boudreaux is suing the bar association along with the state Supreme Court and all of its justices. His attorneys want to throw out rules requiring bar association membership and ban the LSBA from political advocacy.

“I think there’s the opportunity to challenge both of those aspects, which increases people’s freedom,” said James Baehr, general counsel at the Pelican Institute for Public Policy.

The New Orleans-based Pelican Institute filed Boudreaux’s suit along with the Goldwater Institute, located in Phoenix, and Loyola University law professor Dane Ciolino. Baehr said many state supreme courts regulate attorneys directly, and Louisiana could do the same without violating attorneys’ constitutional rights.

“We have briefly reviewed the suit and it appears to be similar to actions filed in other states,” LSBA President Bob Kutcher said by email. “We are in full compliance with the law and deny the allegations.”

The Louisiana Supreme Court does not comment on pending litigation, said Trina Vincent with the court’s community relations department.

LSBA bylaws allow members to object to their dues being used to promote political or ideological causes. But the association doesn't publish notices of all of its activities, according to the lawsuit, nor does it give specific details of all of its expenditures in its annual report.

"The LSBA therefore does not provide a meaningful, reasonable opportunity for members to determine the basis of the dues they are charged and object to expenditures that they believe violate their First Amendment right not to fund LSBA activities that are not germane to improving the quality of legal services and regulating the practice of law," the suit claims.

According to Boudreaux’s attorneys, Louisiana is one of 30 states where lawyers are compelled to join bar associations. Such groups are trade associations, not regulatory bodies, and often use members’ dues to advocate for and against public policies, forcing members to pay for other peoples’ political speech, which the First Amendment almost never allows, they argue.

LSBA policy positions mentioned in Boudreaux’s suit include calling for a moratorium on the death penalty, mandating a civics credit in high school that incorporates the current free enterprise requirement and urging the adoption of laws prohibiting discrimination against gay people. But Boudreaux said no particular positions taken by the association motivated him to sue–he has agreed with some and disagreed with others–he just objects to being compelled to pay for LSBA’s advocacy.

The LSBA charges annual dues of up to $200, and attorneys who fail to pay can face discipline including disbarment, Boudreaux’s attorneys say. The association’s Legislation Committee has taken positions on more than 407 bills since 2007, they say.

The Goldwater Institute represented a North Dakota attorney in a similar suit. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled against him in 2017, but last December the Supreme Court ordered the Eighth Circuit to reconsider its decision in light of Janus. Additional challenges are underway in Texas, Oklahoma, Oregon and Wisconsin, the institute says.

Staff Reporter

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.