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Supreme Court Upholds Idaho Restriction on Payroll Deductions for Union Politics

The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that a state's restriction on school district and other local government employee payroll deductions for politics does not violate the free speech rights of unions.

The justices ruled 6-3 in a case from Idaho involving that state's Voluntary Contributions Act, which prohibits school districts and other local governments from using their payroll systems to let workers voluntarily deduct amounts from their paychecks for political causes, such as for the unions’ political action funds.

"Idaho’s law does not restrict political speech, but rather declines to promote that speech by allowing public employee checkoffs for political activities," Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority in Ysursa v. Pocatello Education Association (Case No. 07-869). "Such a decision 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."

The chief justice's opinion was joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel A. Alito Jr. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg concurred in the outcome of the case.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer filed an opinion saying he agreed with some of the chief justice's reasoning, but that he believed the case should be sent back to the lower courts for clarification of certain matters.

Justices John Paul Stevens and David H. Souter each filed dissenting opinions.

"Because it is clear to me that the restriction [on payroll deductions] was intended to make it more difficult for unions to finance political speech, I would hold it unconstitutional in all its applications," Justice Stevens said.

At least two other states--Ohio and Utah--have similar laws that have also faced court challenges, typically led by the teachers' unions. The Supreme Court's decision could lead to an increase in efforts in the states to restrict the power of public-employee unions.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a Springfield, Va.-based group that filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case on the side of Idaho, issued this press release praising the court's ruling.

The Associated Press reports on the decision here.

I wrote about the oral arguments and background of the case here.

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