Thursday, June 5, 2008

Goldwater Institute: Time to Rein in State Bar

by Clint Bolick

It is inherently dangerous to confer the coercive powers of government upon a guild. Exhibit A: the Arizona State Bar, which is on a rampage to suppress free-speech rights.

The Bar has initiated several complaints against Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas in regard to his critical comments about Superior Court judges and his office's efforts to recuse a judge for allegedly failing to enforce a voter initiative. Wise and temperate or not, such criticisms are at the core of constitutionally protected speech, and the Bar's campaign against Thomas is sure to chill the exercise of those rights.

Thomas enlisted several prominent lawyers and ethics experts to provide affidavits in support of his special action contesting the bar's enforcement actions in the Arizona Supreme Court, including the distinguished former Bar president, Ernest Calderon. The Bar responded by unanimously voting to replace Calderon as a delegate to the American Bar Association. State Bar president Daniel McAuliffe stated ominously, "Maybe he shouldn't have filed the affidavit."

The Bar also has voted to officially oppose the proposed initiative that would ban racial preferences in government employment, contracting, and education. The Bar likely would use compulsory membership dues of members who strongly support the initiative-a form of compelled political speech that also violates constitutional guarantees.

The Bar's many roles-prosecutor, judge, enforcer, lobbyist-are ill-suited for a single entity. Several legislators have proposed stripping the Bar of its disciplinary functions, and they should also make membership voluntary. In the meantime, the Arizona Supreme Court should exercise its supervisory authority to prevent abuse of the Bar's sweeping powers. The rule of law requires neutral law enforcement, but one of the components of that process in Arizona has become a strident partisan.

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