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First Amendment Protection for Teachers' Union Contributions

It's been a banner week for teachers' unions in the federal courts. On Monday, the National Education Association won a big federal appeals court ruling reviving its legal challenge to the No Child Left Behind Act.

Now, the Utah Education Association, an NEA affiliate, has won a ruling that says a state law barring state and local public employers from withholding workers' voluntary political contributions violates the First Amendment. The UEA was joined by several other state public-employee unions in its challenge to the law.

In the case of teachers, those voluntary contributions are typically designated for teachers' union political action funds.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver, ruled unanimously that Utah's Voluntary Contributions Act is unconstitutional under the First Amendment as applied to school districts and other local public employers in the state.

"By banning a contribution method preferred by many union members, the VCA increases the difficulty of contributing to labor union political funds," and thus the law "burdens political speech," the court said in its Jan. 10 decision.

No reaction on the Web yet from the Utah attorney general's office, which defended the law, or anti-union groups that had filed court briefs in support of it, such as the Evergreen Freedom Foundation and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

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