Posted on April 24, 2018

Oregon State Bar’s Statement on ‘White Nationalism’ Draws Criticism

Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian, April 23, 2018

Two signed statements in the latest Oregon State Bar bulletin — one by the bar condemning speech that incites violence and the other by non-bar specialty groups decrying the rise of the white nationalist movement under President Trump — have drawn fire from some lawyers aghast that the bar would allow such political statements.


A “Statement on White Nationalism and Normalization of Violence” denounces hate mongering, referencing the white nationalist march last August in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the May stabbing attacks on the Portland MAX train. The bar’s statement calls out a “current climate of violence, extremism and exclusion” that threatens the rule of law and judicial system that serves everyone.

That statement was signed by the president and president-elect of the bar’s board of governors, a board member, the bar’s chief executive officer, a state bar staff member and a volunteer lawyer who leads the bar’s diversity and inclusion committee.

An adjoining page has a “Joint Statement of the Oregon Specialty Bar Associations Supporting the Oregon State Bar’s Statement.” It goes further, repeatedly criticizing President Donald Trump for having “catered to this white nationalist movement, allowing it to make up the base of his support and providing it a false sense of legitimacy.”

West Linn lawyer Diane Gruber slammed the statements as “blatantly partisan” and in clear violation of a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Keller v. State Bar of California, which held that attorneys required to be members of a state bar association have a First Amendment right to refrain from subsidizing the organization’s political or ideological activities.

The Oregon State Bar is a government agency that regulates the legal profession in the state. {snip}


He wrote to the bar that he supports the first statement’s “underlying message” of “fair and equitable administration/equal justice for all,” but added, “you and the other signers went far beyond that by making it biased and political.”


Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Nyhus wrote that he was disappointed to learn his dues were “used to promote a political and partisan letter – directed at hate speech but clearly intended to suppress other viewpoints.”

The Multnomah County Republican Party also sent the bar a letter, demanding that it “cease its partisan attacks against Trump. “The bar has no business taking its members’ dues money to publish false claims that fringe racist groups constitute the ‘base’ of the president’s support,” wrote lawyer James Buchal, a member of the bar and chairman of the county GOP.


At a meeting of the bar’s board of governors Friday, bar chief executive officer Helen Hierschbiel noted that the board didn’t formally adopt or support the statement by the specialty bar groups and said publication of the statements side-by-side was “ill-advised and confusing.”

The board voted to rescind partial dues of angered members, resulting from the publication of the specialty bar statement. The board also voted to run a clarification in its next issue, affirming the state bar’s statement, but explaining that the other statement was independent.


[Click here to see a screenshot of the two statements.]