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Keller v. State Bar of California

Citation. 22 Ill.496 U.S. 1, 110 S. Ct. 2228, 110 L. Ed. 2d 1 (1990)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Petitioners, Keller and other members of the State Bar of California (SBC) (Petitioners), sued the Respondent, the SBC (Respondent), on the grounds that the Respondent was using their membership dues to finance activities to which they were opposed.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

When membership in an association is compulsory, members may be able to reject how their dues are spent.


The Respondent is an integrated bar, meaning that membership is compulsory to practice law within the state. The Respondent chose to use membership dues to fund politically charged activities and the Petitioners brought suit alleging that Respondent’s decision to fund those activities was in violation of their First Amendment constitutional rights. The Supreme Court of California rejected Petitioners’ claims on the basis that Respondent is a state agency and can spend funds for any purpose within statutory authority. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) granted certiorari.


The issue here is whether compulsory membership, as a condition to licensure, requires members to adhere to the choices of an association.


Chief Judge William Rehnquist (J. Rehnquist). Reversed.
While the court agreed that membership in an association may be compulsory to employment, members do not give up their right to disagree with and choose not to fund certain activities to which they are opposed.
Because the purpose of the State Bar is to regulate the legal profession and improve the quality of legal services, the Respondents may choose to fund activities germane to its purpose, but may not fund activities that fall outside of the scope of its purpose, without consent of its members.


An important note in this case is the compulsory nature of the membership in the association. If the members chose to associate themselves, based on political beliefs, they could not later oppose expenditures or, alternatively, they could disassociate themselves with the association.

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