Tonkon Torp celebrates another victory for the Oregon State Bar (OSB) in the ongoing challenge presented in Gruber v. Oregon State Bar and Crowe v. Oregon State Bar. The cases were initiated in 2018 by lawyers to dispute Oregon’s law requiring membership in the bar as a condition of practicing law in Oregon. Partner Steven Wilker has led the defense for OSB in Gruber v. Oregon State Bar since the outset.
At question in both cases is whether compulsory membership in the Oregon State Bar violates individual rights to free speech and free association under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. After Judge Simon of the U.S. District Court granted the OSB’s motions to dismiss in both cases, the plaintiffs appealed and the cases were argued at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in May, 2020.
In its February 2021 opinion, the Ninth Circuit affirmed claims regarding free speech and remanded a single question on freedom of association back to the district court for consideration. The plaintiffs also filed unsuccessful petitions for writs of certiorari asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Keller v. State Bar of California (which establishes the constitutional guardrails for an integrated state bar) because it was based on Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (regarding compelling non-union members to pay their fair share of collective bargaining costs), which was reversed by the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision Janus v. AFSCME.
Litigation associate Paul Balmer joined Steven Wilker in spring 2021 to defend the remaining freedom of association claims in District Court. In February 2023, Judge Simon granted the OSB’s motion for summary judgment on the plaintiffs’ surviving claims. The plaintiffs have again appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
The basis of these two cases threatens the existence of the Oregon State Bar and is part of a nationwide effort to eliminate integrated state bars, which both regulate admission to practice law and provide additional services to and for attorneys. In 2019, in recognition of his work on the case, Steven was one of four attorneys presented with the Oregon State Bar President’s Special Award of Appreciation.