Republican Judges Back Michigan Anti-Union Law

     (CN) – Michigan can bar the deduction of union dues from public school paychecks, the 6th Circuit ruled, rejecting claims that the practice discriminates against teachers.
     Public Act 53, an anti-union law adopted by the Republican-controlled Legislature in Michigan last year, prohibits public employees’ unions from negotiating for anything but salary and prohibits school districts from collecting union dues through a payroll deduction.
     Michigan Education Association led a dozen other teachers unions in a federal complaint that called the law unconstitutional.
     “The true legislative agenda behind Public Act 53 was to suppress and silence the political voices of public school unions and their members in retaliation for their grassroots political activity,” the complaint stated.
     In addition to claiming that the law violated the free-speech rights of unions under the first amendment, the groups also claimed that the law violated the equal protection clause by prohibiting payroll deduction for union dues only among school districts, leaving other public employers unaffected.
     A federal judge in Detroit granted the unions an injunction, but a divided three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit reversed last week.
     Party lines apparently split the panel, with Judges Raymond Kethledge and Julia Gibbons in the majority. President George W. Bush appointed Kethledge to the court, and Gibbons owes her seat to President Ronald Reagan.
     “The First Amendment prohibits government from ‘abridging the freedom of speech’; it does not confer an affirmative right to use government payroll mechanisms for the purpose of obtaining funds for expression,” Kethledge wrote for the majority. “Here, Public Act 53 does not restrict the unions’ speech at all: they remain free to speak about whatever they wish. Moreover, ‘nothing in the First Amendment prevents a state from determining that its political subdivisions may not provide payroll deductions’ for union activities; and payroll deductions are all that Public Act 53 denies the unions here.”
     Since Michigan’s law does not single out any one education union, Kethledge said the act was entirely neutral on its face. Precedent furthermore prohibits courts from looking past the text of the statute to evaluate legislative intent, according to the ruling.
     “Public Act 53 does not restrict speech; it does not discriminate against or even mention viewpoint; and it has nothing to do with a forum of any kind,” Kethledge wrote. “Instead, the act merely directs one kind of public employer to use its resources for its core mission rather than for the collection of union dues. That is not a First Amendment concern.”
     Judge Jane Stanch, an appointee of President Barack Obama, penned the dissent, which contends that the majority opinion “mischaracterizes the First Amendment interests at stake, glosses over key distinctions the Supreme Court requires us to observe, and averts its gaze from Act 53’s blatant viewpoint discrimination.”
     “The foundational requirement of viewpoint neutrality means little if a state may legislate with impunity to cripple the power of an unpopular group whose political views are objectionable to the state,” Stanch wrote. “The unanswered constitutional question in this case is whether the government may burden expression it disagrees with by selectively restricting access to public resources that facilitate that expression. The answer is no. The majority wrongly concludes otherwise.” (Italics in original.)

%d bloggers like this: