(CN) – In a fractured ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld Idaho’s ban on political payroll deductions, saying it doesn’t violate the First Amendment rights of local governments.
Under Idaho’s Right to Work Act, public employees can authorize payroll deductions for union dues, but not for union political activities.
A group of Idaho public employee unions challenged the Act, claiming it violated their First Amendment rights when applied to county, municipal, school district and other local public employers.
The district court upheld the law at the state level, but struck it down as applied to local governments. The 9th Circuit affirmed, saying the state does not actually operate or control local government’s payroll deduction systems.
Chief Justice John Roberts said the ban on political payroll deductions “is reasonable in light of the State’s interest in avoiding the appearance that carrying out the public’s business is tainted by partisan political activity.”
Roberts added: “That interest extends to government at the local as well as state level, and nothing in the First Amendment prevents a State from determining that its political subdivisions may not provide payroll deductions for political activities.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg concurred and Justice Stephen Breyer dissented in part, saying he would find the exception for political activity constitutional, “but only if I were convinced that the exception applied even handedly among similar politically related contributions.”
Justice John Paul Stevens dissented, saying the law violates the Constitution because it was clearly “intended to make it more difficult for unions to finance political speech.”
In a separate dissent, Justice David Souter said the law crosses the line between neutral regulation of governmental activity and viewpoint discrimination.