10.01.2008 0

Idaho Strikes Back

  • On: 10/13/2008 13:17:27
  • In: Big Labor
  • Should the government subsidize political activities—especially when those political activities are abhorrent to the taxpayers whose money is taken to fund the subsidies?

    The State of Idaho thinks not. And it’s willing to go to the mat to make its point.

    In 2003, the legislature boldly passed a law prohibiting that State’s political subdivisions—counties, cities, and towns—from allowing payroll deductions by unions to be used for political purposes. The law protected workers’ rights to choose for themselves when—and when not—to fund union political activities. It allowed employees to make contributions on a voluntary basis. And it prohibited union bosses from taking them on a mandatory basis. Pure and simple.

    Pure and simple, that is, until later that same year when union bosses sued and had the law overturned in a district court. Still trying to protect workers’ rights, the State of Idaho fought back. And then, last year, because of judicial activism, that common sense legislation was again overturned by the infamous Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Ysursa v. Pocatello Education Association.

    The Ninth Circuit ruled that since the State of Idaho does not control and directly fund the administration of its political subdivisions’ payroll systems, it could not constitutionally—under the First Amendment—prohibit government payroll deductions from being used for political purposes.

    But this sets a patently absurd—not to mention unobtainable—standard. What it actually means is that Idaho could constitutionally enact such a prohibition upon its counties, cities, etc. only if it administered every government payroll system of the State at all levels of government. In short “freedom of speech” is not actually the issue at all—but rather the internal relationships between the State of Idaho and its own municipalities. And that’s an area that should be far outside the federal court’s legitimate purview.

    The Ninth Circuit went so far as to acknowledge that the State’s prohibition against
    payroll deductions from State employees being utilized for political activities is completely constitutional under the First Amendment. And, to boot, that the municipalities in question could enact similar prohibitions if they so desired. So again, freedom of speech is not at issue.

    Fortunately the State of Idaho is not taking this absurdity lying down. It is continuing to fight back, appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court in what promises to be a landmark decision. The nation’s highest court granted certiorari on March 31st.

    And Americans for Limited Government has joined the battle, too. On June 6th, ALG filed an Amicus Curiae brief in support of the Idaho’s position. Oral arguments are set for this coming fall, and ALG News will keep you apprised of developments in this case.

    Hopefully the rights of States to govern their own internal affairs will be upheld—as will the rights of State and local employees to not be forced to fund political activities they abhor.

    ALG Perspective: The Idaho Legislature enacted a law that said simply no government in Idaho could deduct political funds from a worker’s paycheck, period. Under their law, having government payroll offices deduct donations to a union political fund is administrative support of partisan political activity. This truly was a bold step by the Idaho Legislature to remove the government from political action, to make government the neutral arbiter it is supposed to be instead of an active political player. The unions may want the government to weigh in on their side, do their work for them, and have a special privilege nobody else enjoys to give them a leg up over everyone else in the political arena. But that is not fair, and the taxpayers of Idaho ought not to have to pay for it.

    Ultimately, this case will decide whether the Supreme Court still believes Thomas Jefferson’s dictum: “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.”

    The government is not required by the First Amendment to subsidize putting money into the political wings of the unions, or any other political committee. Those unions should just do what every other PAC, political, or issues advocacy committee does when it wants to raise money: Go raise it themselves.


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