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State bar lawsuit makes good points

A pair of lawyers is suing the Oregon State Bar, arguing they shouldn’t be required to pay dues to the agency that oversees the state’s lawyers. The suit comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus ruling, which said government workers cannot be forced to pay union dues or fees if they choose to opt out.

While the bar association is not a union — it was created by the Legislature in 1935 to license and discipline lawyers — the issues are roughly the same and the same rules should apply. Lawyers should still be licensed by OSB, but those who wish to opt out of joining the organization should be allowed to do so.

The lawyers argue, in part, that membership fees go to support the bar’s political activities, violating their First Amendment free speech rights in the process. They point specifically to a statement published in the association’s April Bar Bulletin denouncing “White Nationalism and (the) Normalization of Violence.” We agree with the association’s statement, which was carefully worded and pointed out the varied views of OSB members.

It was accompanied by a second statement by nonbar specialty groups that specifically called out President Donald Trump as someone catering to white nationalists and encouraging their violence by doing so.

The statements are clearly political in nature. Other OSB functions may be political too, or not. Either way, lawyers should not be required to support speech and activities or belong to an organization with which they disagree.

That doesn’t mean lawyers should be allowed to practice unlicensed, or that the bar association should not be the agency to issue those licenses. Nor does it mean that nonmember lawyers should be able to take advantage of other programs the association runs free for its members without paying to do so.

Separating licensing and membership and coming up with fee schedules for all the services OSB now provides wouldn’t be easy, but it would be the right thing to do. Bar officials should get busy before being ordered to do so by a court.

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