A campaign has been launched by the Goldwater Institute to reform the courts in its home state of Arizona.
It has filed petitions seeking to eliminate a state bar membership requirement for lawyers, limit penalties for participants in public interest litigation and bring more transparency to the courts.
The bar membership requirement may draw the biggest fight, although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled just last year that states could not force public employees to participate in public-sector unions.
The institute contends the requirement “violates constitutional rights of freedom of speech and association, as well as Arizona’s right to work law which declares that no person may be ‘denied the opportunity to obtain or retain employment because of non-membership in a labor organization.'”
The organization asserts in its petitions to the state court system that “compelling people to subsidize political organizations against their will violates the First Amendment. Similarly, mandatory bar dues often go toward political activities and speech that some attorneys oppose.”
Goldwater said its petition also seeks an audit of the Arizona bar to make expenditures are more transparent.
“Bar associations have a disproportionately strong influence in our democracy – and indeed, they’re usually the entities filing such rule petitions, which has served to make the legal process more insular. But as a public-interest organization, we ought to challenge this influence when necessary to ensure the public’s rights are protected,” said Goldwater Institute Vice President for Litigation Timothy Sandefur.
“By filing these rule petitions, we’re seeking to make the system more open and more fair for everyone involved.”
The organization insisted there’s no real reason to require membership.
“Eighteen states – including states with large numbers of attorneys, like New York – don’t require their attorneys to join a bar association,” the group said.
It already is fighting similar disputes in North Dakota and Oregon.
The penalties to which it objects come from Rule 68 of the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure. The rule forces a penalty on a plaintiff who don’t accept a reasonable settlement offer.
And finally, it asks that the state court system make case documents more available to the public.
“The only way for the public to access documents regarding cases that the state Supreme Court has been asked to decide is via a single public computer terminal in the court clerk’s Phoenix office. This makes it difficult for Arizonans to learn about what the court has been asked to rule on, or to offer their own views on these important legal questions,” the institute said.
It wants those documents posted online.