On Monday, December 3, 2018, the United States Supreme Court vacated the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals’s decision in Fleck v. Wetch, No. 16-1564 (8th Cir. 2017) and remanded the case to the 8th Circuit to decide whether mandatory state bar association fees translate to compelled association and compelled speech.
Arnold Fleck, a lawyer in North Dakota, sued the State Bar Association of North Dakota in 2014 after he discovered that the bar association contributed $50,000 to oppose a state ballot measure that Fleck had donated $1,000 to support. Fleck did not approve of being compelled by state law, which requires North Dakota lawyers to join the State Bar Association of North Dakota, to pay bar association fees to support said bar association. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Fleck’s argument, citing Keller v. State Bar of California, 496 U.S. 1 (1990), a case in which mandatory bar association fees were upheld. Fleck appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court, arguing that the mandatory state bar association fees “involves compelled association and compelled speech.”
The United States Supreme Court vacated the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals decision and remanded the case “for further consideration in light of Janus.” In the case at issue, Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, No. 16-1466, 585 U.S. ___ (2018), the United States Supreme Court held that mandatory union fees in the public sector violate the First Amendment right to free speech of employees who did not support the union. Although the United States Supreme Court did not issue a final ruling in Fleck, it appears to signal the high court’s reluctance to require that lawyers support private bar associations in light of this constitutional challenge.
Supreme Court suggests forcing lawyers to pay bar association dues violates their free speech, Los Angeles Times (December 3, 2018)
Arnold Fleck v. Joe Wetch, et al., No. 16-1564 (8th Cir. 2017) [United States Supreme Court Docket Report]
Arnold Fleck v. Joe Wetch, et al., No. 16-1564 (8th Cir. 2017) [8th Circuit Ruling]
Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, 585 U.S. ___ (2018)