NYC Jewish Public Defenders Sue Over Union’s Pro-Hamas Activism

2024-04-15 12:00:52

After the Hamas massacre on October 7th, Jewish lawyers at New York City’s Legal Aid Society faced an environment so hostile they considered quitting, the Free Press reported last month. Members of their own union, the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (ALAA)/UAW Local 2325, were attacking them from within for supporting Israel, and the reporters had been handed the receipts. Nasty group texts and leaked emails called defenders of the Jewish state “fascist,” “deranged,” and “mentally disturbed,” while hundreds of other messages accused Israel of “genocide,” “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid.”

Then, on December 19, over the objection of pro-Israel union members and in defiance of Legal Aid Society policy, the ALAA passed a  resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and boycott of Israel for its “apartheid and occupation” of Palestinian land. There is no mention of Hamas, much less its role in the ongoing conflict, which the resolution blames Israel for “escalating.”

The resolution triggered a federal probe into antisemitism at the ALAA, by the same House committee investigating campus antisemitism at the universities we covered here. If the committee’s letter  and demand for documents are any indication, the union should get the same grilling that those schools got last year. The ALAA’s failure to condemn Hamas, wrote Chairwoman Virginia Foxx, was “deplorable,” and it has “alienated a sizable portion” of its members.

And now, two of those Jewish members are suing the ALAA, the Legal Aid Society (LAS), and the City of New York in federal court. They allege they should not be forced to pay dues to the ALAA to subsidize political speech they disagree with as a condition of their employment—and in violation of their First Amendment rights.

For the legal geeks wondering how the plaintiffs allege a constitutional claim based on these facts, the complaint sets out the relationship between the City and the LAS that gives rise to the state action necessary to support it.

According to the complaint, New York City satisfies its constitutional obligation to provide representation to poor criminal defendants through a contractual arrangement with the LAS, which in turn employs criminal defense attorneys, including the plaintiffs. Under a collective bargaining agreement between the LAS and the ALAA, all LAS attorneys must pay dues or their substantial equivalent to the ALAA.

And that’s where the constitutional claim comes up: The City’s hiring of the plaintiffs through LAS, which requires them to be part of ALAA, constitutes state action, the complaint alleges.

From the complaint, Paragraphs 42-45:

42. …[B]y entering into its contracts with LAS in order to provide a core government function (criminal defense representation to indigent), the City knew that those criminal defense attorneys would be required to pay money to ALAA as a condition of providing criminal defense representation for the City.

43. Here, in substance, Defendants’ hiring of Plaintiffs through LAS, which required them to be part of ALAA, constitutes state action.

44. Plaintiffs have not provided affirmative consent to pay the union because they were never given a choice but to pay money to the union in order to provide criminal defense representation.

45. By requiring Plaintiffs to pay dues or fees to ALAA as a condition of their employment, Defendants are violating Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of association …


The plaintiffs are represented by The Liberty Justice Center. In their statement announcing the lawsuit, they explain further:

The Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment prohibits the government from compelling a person to subsidize a union’s speech. In Janus v. AFSCME, the Court held that a government could not force its employees to pay a union as a condition of their employment. And in Harris v. Quinn, the Court held that a government could not compel recipients of government funds, through a state program to provide services to other private individuals, to pay money to a union.

“Under Janus, the government cannot compel public defenders to pay money to a union as a condition of their employment,” said Jeffrey Schwab, Senior Counsel at the Liberty Justice Center. “Nor can the City of New York force its public defenders to pay money to a union by hiring them through a nonprofit organization whose employees are unionized.”

As one of the plaintiffs put it: “I shouldn’t have to financially support an organization that adopts antisemitic resolutions, sides with terrorist organizations, and advocates for the destruction of Israel in order to be a public defender in New York.”



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