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LATHROP v. DONOHUE

decided: June 19, 1961.

LATHROP
v.
DONOHUE



APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF WISCONSIN.

Warren, Black, Frankfurter, Douglas, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, Whittaker, Stewart

Author: Brennan

[ 367 U.S. Page 821]

 MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN announced the judgment of the Court and an opinion in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE, MR. JUSTICE CLARK and MR. JUSTICE STEWART join.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court integrated the Wisconsin Bar by an order which created "The State Bar of Wisconsin" on January 1, 1957, under Rules and Bylaws promulgated by the court. In re Integration of the Bar, 273 Wis. 281; id., p. vii; 77 N. W. 2d 602. The order originally was effective for a two-year trial period, but

[ 367 U.S. Page 822]

     in 1958 was continued indefinitely. In re Integration of the Bar, 5 Wis. 2d 618, 93 N. W. 2d 601. Alleging that the "rules and by-laws required the plaintiff to enroll in the State Bar of Wisconsin and to pay dues to the treasurer of the State Bar of Wisconsin on the penalty of being deprived of his livelihood as a practicing lawyer, if he should fail to do so," the appellant, a Wisconsin lawyer, brought this action in the Circuit Court of Dane County for the refund of $15 annual dues for 1959 paid by him under protest to appellee, the Treasurer of the State Bar. He attached to his complaint a copy of the letter with which he had enclosed his check for the dues. He stated in the letter that he paid under protest because "I do not like to be coerced to support an organization which is authorized and directed to engage in political and propaganda activities. . . . A major portion of the activities of the State Bar as prescribed by the Supreme Court of Wisconsin are of a political and propaganda nature." His complaint alleges more specifically that the State Bar promotes "law reform" and "makes and opposes proposals for changes in . . . laws and constitutional provisions and argues to legislative bodies and their committees and to the lawyers and to the people with respect to the adoption of changes in . . . codes, laws and constitutional provisions." He alleges further that in the course of this activity "the State Bar of Wisconsin has used its employees, property and funds in active, unsolicited opposition to the adoption of legislation by the Legislature of the State of Wisconsin, which was favored by the plaintiff, all contrary to plaintiff's convictions and beliefs." His complaint concludes: "The plaintiff bases this action on his claim that the defendant has unjustly received, held, and disposed of funds of the plaintiff in the amount of $15.00, which to the knowledge of the

[ 367 U.S. Page 823]

     defendant were paid to the defendant by the plaintiff unwillingly and under coercion, and that such coercion was and is entailed in the rules and by-laws of the State Bar of Wisconsin continued in effect by the aforesaid order of the Supreme Court of the State of Wisconsin . . . ; and the said order insofar as it coerces the plaintiff to support the State Bar of Wisconsin, is unconstitutional and in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States . . . ."

The appellee demurred to the complaint on the ground, among others,*fn1 that it failed to state a cause of action. The demurrer was sustained and the complaint was dismissed. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin, on appeal, stated that the Circuit Court was without jurisdiction to determine the questions raised by the complaint. However, treating the case as if originally and properly brought in the Supreme Court, the court considered appellant's constitutional claims, not only on the allegations of the complaint, but also upon the facts, of which it took judicial notice, as to its own actions leading up to the challenged order, and as to all activities, including legislative activities, of the State Bar since its creation.*fn2 The judgment of the Circuit Court dismissing the complaint was affirmed. 10 Wis. 2d 230, 102 N. W. 2d 404. The Supreme Court held that the requirement that appellant be an enrolled dues-paying member of the State Bar did not abridge his rights of freedom of association, and also that his rights to free speech were not violated because the State Bar used his money to support legislation with which he disagreed.

[ 367 U.S. Page 824]

     An appeal was brought here by appellant under 28 U. S. C. § 1257 (2), which authorizes our review of a final judgment rendered by the highest court of a State "By appeal, where is drawn in question the validity of a [state] statute . . . ." We postponed to the hearing on the merits the question whether the order continuing the State Bar indefinitely under the Rules and Bylaws is a "statute" for the purposes of appeal under § 1257 (2). 364 U.S. 810.

We think that the order is a "statute" for the purposes of § 1257 (2). Under that section, the legislative character of challenged state action, rather than the nature of the agency of the State performing the act, is decisive of the question of jurisdiction. It is not necessary that the state legislature itself should have taken the action drawn in question. In construing the similar jurisdictional provision in the Judiciary Act of 1867, 14 Stat. 385, we said: "Any enactment, from whatever source originating, to which a State gives the force of law is a statute of the State, within the meaning of the clause cited relating to the jurisdiction of this court." Williams v. Bruffy, 96 U.S. 176, 183. We likewise said of the provision of the Act of 1925, 43 Stat. 936, which is the present § 1257 (2): ". . . the jurisdictional provision uses the words 'a statute of any State' in their larger sense and is not intended to make a distinction between acts of a state legislature and other exertions of the State's law-making power, but rather to include every act legislative in character to which the State gives its sanction." King Manufacturing Co. v. City Council, 277 U.S. 100, 104-105. Thus this Court has upheld jurisdiction on appeal of challenges to municipal ordinances, e. g., King Manufacturing Co. v. City Council, supra; Jamison v. Texas, 318 U.S. 413; certain types of orders of state regulatory commissions, e. g., Lake Erie & Western R. Co. v. State Public Utilities Comm'n, 249 U.S. 422; and some

[ 367 U.S. Page 825]

     orders of other state agencies, e. g., Hamilton v. Regents, 293 U.S. 245, 257-258. It is true that in these cases the state agency the action of which was called in question was exercising authority delegated to it by the legislature. However, this fact was not determinative, but was merely relevant to the character of the State's action. The absence of such a delegation does not preclude consideration of the exercise of authority as a statute.

We are satisfied that this appeal is from an act legislative in nature and within § 1257 (2). Integration of the Bar was effected through an interplay of action by the legislature and the court directed to fashioning a policy for the organization of the legal profession. The Wisconsin Legislature initiated the movement for integration of the Bar in 1943 when it passed the statute, chapter 315 of the Wisconsin Laws for that year, now Wis. Rev. Stat. § 256.31, providing:

"(1) There shall be an association to be known as the 'State Bar of Wisconsin' composed of persons licensed to practice law in this state, and membership in such association shall be a condition precedent to the right to practice law in Wisconsin.

"(2) The supreme court by appropriate orders shall provide for the organization and government of the association and shall define the rights, obligations and conditions of membership therein, to the end that such association shall promote the public interest by maintaining high standards of conduct in the legal profession and by aiding in the efficient administration of justice."

The State Supreme Court held that this statute was not binding upon it because " the power to integrate the bar is an incident to the exercise of the judicial power . . . ." Integration of Bar Case, 244 Wis. 8, 40, 11 N. W. 2d 604, 619. The court twice refused to order integration, 244 Wis. 8, 11 N. W. 2d 604, 249 Wis. 523, 25 N. W. 2d 500,

[ 367 U.S. Page 826]

     before taking the actions called in question on this appeal, 273 Wis. 281, 77 N. W. 2d 602, 5 Wis. 2d 618, 93 N. W. 2d 601. Nevertheless, the court in rejecting the first petition, 244 Wis., at pp. 51-52, 11 N. W. 2d, at pp. 623-624, recognized that its exercise of the power to order integration of the Bar would not be adjudicatory, but an action in accord with and in implementation of the legislative declaration of public policy.*fn3 The court said:

"It is obvious that whether the general welfare requires that the bar be treated as a corporate body is a matter for the consideration of the legislature. . . . While the legislature has no constitutional power to compel the court to act or, if it acts, to act in a particular way in the discharge of the judicial function, it may nevertheless with propriety, and in the exercise of its power and the discharge of its duty, declare itself upon questions relating to the general welfare which includes the integration of the bar. The court, as has been exemplified during the entire history of the state, will respect such declarations

[ 367 U.S. Page 827]

     and, as already indicated, adopt them so far as they do not embarrass the court or impair its constitutional functions."

Integration of the Bar in Wisconsin bore no resemblance to adjudication. The State Supreme Court's action disposed of no litigation between parties. Rather the court sought to regulate the profession by applying its orders to all present members of the Bar and to all persons coming within the described class in the future. Cf. Hamilton v. Regents, supra, p. 258; King Manufacturing Co. v. City Council, supra, p. 104. As such, the action had the characteristics of legislation. We conclude that the appeal is cognizable under § 1257 (2). We therefore proceed to the consideration of the merits.

The core of appellant's argument is that he cannot constitutionally be compelled to join and give support to an organization which has among its functions the expression of opinion on legislative matters and which utilizes its property, funds and employees for the purposes of influencing legislation and public opinion toward legislation.*fn4 But his compulsory enrollment imposes only

[ 367 U.S. Page 828]

     the duty to pay dues.*fn5 The Supreme Court of Wisconsin so interpreted its order and its interpretation is of course binding on us. The court said: "The rules and by-laws of the State Bar, as approved by this court, do not compel the plaintiff to associate with anyone. He is free to attend or not attend its meetings or vote in its elections as he chooses. The only compulsion to which he has been subjected by the integration of the bar is the payment of the annual dues of $15 per year." 10 Wis. 2d, at p. 237, 102 N. W. 2d, at p. 408.*fn6 We therefore are confronted, as we were in Railway Employes' Department v. Hanson, 351 U.S. 225, only with a question of compelled financial support of group activities, not with involuntary membership in any other aspect. Cf. International Association of Machinists v. Street, decided today, ante, p. 740, at pp. 748-749.

A review of the activities of the State Bar authorized under the Rules and Bylaws is necessary to decision. The purposes of the organization are stated as follows in Rule 1, § 2: "to aid the courts in carrying on and improving

[ 367 U.S. Page 829]

     the administration of justice; to foster and maintain on the part of those engaged in the practice of law high ideals of integrity, learning, competence and public service and high standards of conduct; to safeguard the proper professional interests of the members of the bar; to encourage the formation and activities of local bar associations; to provide a forum for the discussion of subjects pertaining to the practice of law, the science of jurisprudence and law reform, and the relations of the bar to the public, and to publish information relating thereto; to the end that the public responsibilities of the legal profession may be more effectively discharged." To achieve these purposes standing committees and sections are established.*fn7 The Rules also assign the organization

[ 367 U.S. Page 830]

     a major role in the State's procedures for the discipline of members of the bar for unethical conduct. A Committee on Grievances is provided for each of the nine districts into which the State is divided. Each

[ 367 U.S. Page 831]

     committee receives and investigates complaints of alleged misconduct of lawyers within its district. Each committee also investigates and processes petitions for reinstatement of lawyers and petitions for late enrollment in the State Bar of lawyers who fail to enroll within a designated period after becoming eligible to enroll.

The State Legislature and the State Supreme Court have informed us of the public interest sought to be served by the integration of the bar. The statute states its desirability "to the end that such association shall promote the public interest by maintaining high standards

[ 367 U.S. Page 832]

     of conduct in the legal profession and by aiding in the efficient administration of justice." This theme is echoed in the several Supreme Court opinions. The first opinion after the passage of the statute noted the "widespread general recognition of the fact that the conduct of the bar is a matter of general public interest and concern." 244 Wis. 8, 16, 11 N. W. 2d 604, 608. But the court's examination at that time of existing procedures governing admission and discipline of lawyers and the prevention of the unauthorized practice of the law persuaded the court that the public interest was being adequately served without integration. The same conclusion was reached when the matter was reviewed again in 1946. At that time, in addition to reviewing the desirability of integration in the context of the problems of admission and discipline, the court considered its utility in other fields. The matter of post-law school or post-admission education of lawyers was one of these. The court believed, however, that while an educational program was a proper objective, the one proposed was "nebulous in outline and probably expensive in execution." 249 Wis. 523, 530, 25 N. W. 2d 500, 503. The court also observed, "There are doubtless many other useful activities for which dues might properly be used, but what they are does not occur to us and no particular one seems to press for action." 249 Wis. 523, 530, 25 N. W. 2d 500, 503.

The court concluded in 1956, however, that integration might serve the public interest and should be given a two-year trial.*fn8 It decided to "require the bar to act as

[ 367 U.S. Page 833]

     a unit to promote high standards of practice and the economical and speedy enforcement of legal rights," 273 Wis. 281, 283, 77 N. W. 2d 602, 603, because it had come to the conclusion that efforts to accomplish these ends in the public interest through voluntary association had not been effective. "Too many lawyers have refrained or refused to join, . . . membership in the voluntary association has become static, and . . . a substantial minority of the lawyers in the state are not associated with the State Bar Association." 273 Wis. 281, 283, 77 N. W. 2d 602, 603. When the order was extended indefinitely in 1958 the action was expressly grounded on the finding that, "Members of the legal profession by their admission to the bar become an important part of [the] process [of administering justice] . . . . An independent, active, and intelligent bar is necessary to the efficient administration of justice by the courts." 5 Wis. 2d 618, 622, 93 N. W. 2d 601, 603.

The appellant attacks the power of the State to achieve these goals through integration on the ground that because of its legislative activities, the State Bar partakes of the character of a political party. But on their face the purposes and the designated activities of the State Bar hardly justify this characterization. The inclusion among its purposes that it be a forum for a "discussion of . . . law reform" and active in safeguarding the "proper professional interests of, the members of the bar," in unspecified ways, does not support it. Only two of the 12 committees, Administration of Justice, and Legislation, are expressly directed to concern themselves in a substantial way with legislation. Authority granted the other committees directs them to deal largely with matters

[ 367 U.S. Page 834]

     which appear to be wholly outside the political process and to concern the internal affairs of the profession.

We do not understand the appellant to contend that the State Bar is a sham organization deliberately designed to further a program of political action. Nor would such a contention find support in this record. Legislative activity is carried on under a statement of policy which followed the recommendations of a former president of the voluntary Wisconsin Bar Association, Alfred LaFrance. He recommended that the legislative activity of the State Bar should have two distinct aspects: (1) "the field of legislative reporting or the dissemination of information concerning legislative proposals. . . . This is a service-information function that is both useful to the general membership and to the local bar associations"; and (2) "promotional or positive legislative activity." As to the latter he advised that "the rule of substantial unanimity should be observed. Unless the lawyers of Wisconsin are substantially for or against a proposal, the State Bar should neither support nor oppose the proposal." Wis. Bar Bull., Aug. 1957, pp. 41-42. "We must remember that we are an integrated Bar, that the views of the minority must be given along with the views of the majority where unanimity does not appear. The State Bar represents all of the lawyers of this state and in that capacity we must safeguard the interests of all." Id., p. 44. The rules of policy and procedure for legislative activity follow these recommendations.*fn9

[ 367 U.S. Page 835]

     Under its charter of legislative action, the State Bar has participated in political activities in these principal categories:

(1) its executive director is registered as a lobbyist in accordance with state law. For the legislative

[ 367 U.S. Page 836]

     session 1959-1960, the State Bar listed a $1,400 lobbying expense; this was a percentage of the salary of the executive director, based on an estimate of the time he spent in seeking to influence legislation, amounting to 5% of his salary for the two years. The registration statement signed by the then president of the State Bar added the explanatory note: "His activities as a lobbyist on behalf of the State Bar are incidental to his general work and occupy only a small portion of his time."

(2) The State Bar, through its Board of Governors or Executive Committee, has taken a formal

[ 367 U.S. Page 837]

     position with respect to a number of questions of legislative policy. These have included such subjects as an increase in the salaries of State Supreme Court justices; making attorneys notaries public; amending the Federal Career Compensation Act to apply to attorneys employed with the Armed Forces the same provisions for special pay and promotion available to members of other professions; improving pay scales of attorneys in state service; court reorganization; extending personal jurisdiction over nonresidents; allowing the recording of unwitnessed conveyances; use of deceased partners' names in firm names; revision of the law governing federal tax liens; law clerks for State Supreme Court justices; curtesy and dower; securities transfers by fiduciaries; jurisdiction of county courts over the administration of inter vivos trusts; special appropriations for research for the State Legislative Council.

(3) The standing committees, particularly the Committees on Legislation and Administration of Justice, and the sections have devoted considerable time to the study of legislation, the formulation of recommendations, and the support of various proposals. For example, the president reported in 1960 that the Committee on Legislation "has been extremely busy, and through its efforts in cooperation with other interested agencies has been instrumental in securing the passage of the Court Reorganization bill, the bill of the Judicial Council expanding personal jurisdiction, and at this recently resumed session a bill providing clerks for our Supreme Court, and other bills of importance to the administration of justice." Wis. Bar Bull., Aug. 1960, p. 41. See also id., June 1959, pp. 64-65. A new subcommittee, on federal legislation, was set up by this committee following a study which found need for such a group

[ 367 U.S. Page 838]

     "to deal with federal legislation affecting the practice of law, or lawyers as a class, or the jurisdiction, procedure and practice of the Federal courts and other Federal tribunals, or creation of new Federal courts or judgeships affecting this state, and comparable subjects . . . ." Board of Governors Minutes, Dec. 11, 1959. Furthermore, legislative recommendations and activities have not been confined to those standing committees with the express function in the bylaws of considering legislative proposals. See, e. g., Report of the Committee on Legal Aid, Wis. Bar Bull., June 1960, p. 61; Report of the Committee on Legal Aid, id., June 1959, pp. 61-62. Many of the positions on legislation taken on behalf of the State Bar by the Board of Governors or the Executive Committee have also followed studies and recommendations by the sections. See, e. g., Report of the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section, Wis. Bar Bull., June 1960, p. 51; Report of the Corporation and Business Law Section, id., p. 56.

(4) A number of special committees have been constituted, either ad hoc to consider particular legislative proposals, or to perform continuing functions which may involve the consideration of legislation. Thus special committees have considered such subjects as extension of personal jurisdiction over nonresidents, law clerks for State Supreme Court justices, and revision of the federal tax lien laws. The Special Committee on World Peace through Law, which has encouraged the formation of similar committees on the local level, has sponsored debates on subjects such as the repeal of the Connally reservation, believing that "the general knowledge of laymen as well as of lawyers concerning the possibility of world peace through law is limited and requires a

[ 367 U.S. Page 839]

     constant program of education and discussion." Wis. Bar Bull., June 1960, p. 54.

(5) The Wisconsin Bar Bulletin, sent to each member, prints articles suggesting changes in state and federal law. And other publications of the State Bar deal with the progress of legislation.

But it seems plain that legislative activity is not the major activity of the State Bar. The activities without apparent political coloration are many. The Supreme Court provided in an appendix to the opinion below, "an analysis of [State Bar] . . . activities and the public purpose served thereby." 10 Wis. 2d, at p. 246, 102 N. W. 2d, at p. 412. The court found that "The most extensive activities of the State Bar are those directed toward post-graduate education of lawyers," and that "Postgraduate education of lawyers is in the public interest because it promotes the competency of lawyers to handle the legal matters entrusted to them by those of the general public who employ them." 10 Wis. 2d, at p. 246, 102 N. W. 2d, at pp. 412-413.*fn10 It found that the State Bar's participation

[ 367 U.S. Page 840]

     in the handling of grievances improved the efficiency and effectiveness of this work.*fn11 It found that the public interest was furthered by the Committee on Unauthorized Practice of Law which was carrying on "a constant program since numerous trades and occupations keep expanding their services and frequently start offering services which constitute the practice of the law." 10 Wis. 2d, at p. 248, 102 N. W. 2d, at p. 413.*fn12 The court

[ 367 U.S. Page 841]

     also concluded that the Legal Aid Committee had "done effective and noteworthy work to encourage the local bar associations of the state to set up legal-aid systems in their local communities. . . . Such committee has also outlined recommended procedures for establishing and carrying through such systems of providing legal aid." 10 Wis. 2d, at p. 249, 102 N. W. 2d, at p. 414.*fn13 In the field of public relations the court found that the "chief activity" of the State Bar was the "preparation, publication, and distribution to the general public of pamphlets dealing with various transactions and happenings with which laymen are frequently confronted, which embody legal problems." 10 Wis. 2d, at p. 247, 102 N. W. 2d, at p. 413.*fn14

[ 367 U.S. Page 842]

     Moreover, a number of studies have been made of programs, not involving political action, to further the economic well-being of the profession.*fn15

This examination of the purposes and functions of the State Bar shows its multifaceted character, in fact as well as in conception. In our view the case presents a claim of impingement upon freedom of association no different from that which we decided in Railway Employes' Dept. v. Hanson, 351 U.S. 225. We there held that § 2, Eleventh of the Railway Labor Act, 45 U. S. C. § 152, Eleventh, did not on its face abridge protected rights of association in authorizing union-shop agreements between interstate railroads and unions of their employees conditioning the employees' continued employment on payment of union dues, initiation fees and assessments.

[ 367 U.S. Page 843]

     There too the record indicated that the organizations engaged in some activities similar to the legislative activities of which the appellant complains. See International Association of Machinists v. Street, ante, p. 748, note 5. In rejecting Hanson's claim of abridgment of his rights of freedom of association, we said, "On the present record, there is no more an infringement or impairment of First Amendment rights than there would be in the case of a lawyer who by state law is required to be a member of an integrated bar." 351 U.S., at 238. Both in purport and in practice the bulk of State Bar activities serve the function, or at least so Wisconsin might reasonably believe, of elevating the educational and ethical standards of the Bar to the end of improving the quality of the legal service available to the people of the State, without any reference to the political process. It cannot be denied that this is a legitimate end of state policy.*fn16 We think that the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, in order to further the State's legitimate interests in raising the quality of professional services, may constitutionally require that the costs of improving the profession in this fashion should be shared by the subjects and beneficiaries of the regulatory program, the lawyers, even though the ...


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