Arizona Judge Rules Union Release Time Unconstitutional

After two years of litigation by the Goldwater Institute, the practice of union release time in Arizona has been declared unconstitutional.

Union release time grants government employees time off from their government jobs to conduct union business, while still receiving their public salaries and benefits. Instead of performing their civic duties, public employees on release time can lobby city officials, attend union conferences, and participate in other union activities.

The lawsuit filed by the Goldwater Institute on behalf of Arizona taxpayers claimed that release time granted to the Phoenix police union violates the state’s constitutional provision, known as the “Gift Clause.” Arizona’s Gift Clause states that no state or local government agency “shall make any donation or grant, by subsidy or otherwise, to any individual, association or corporation.”

At the Gift Clause’s core it prohibits public expenditures that do not serve a public purpose. The Goldwater Institute press release includes a quote from Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper, who made it clear in her ruling that union release time benefits the private interests of government unions:

Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper, release time fails the Gift clause test and is therefore unconstitutional because it “does not serve a public purpose” and “diverts officers from performing police work.”  Judge Cooper enjoined the City from negotiating a new contract including illegal release time, and indicated that the law applies to the City’s six other union contracts.

More importantly, this ruling could lead to the end of union release time in numerous states. As I wrote in The McClatchy-Tribune News Service:

Gift clauses date back to the 1840s and 1870s, when most lawmakers in most states sought to end the state governments’ ability to lend or incur debt to the state for the benefit of any private individual, corporation or association. The legislation, commonly referred to as the gift clause, is still on the books in 47 states. It only needs resuscitation and enforcement to end runaway government spending and favors to politically connected special interests.


These bans were intended to protect taxpayer interests by erecting a wall of separation between government and private economic interests. It’s time to rebuild that wall – and high. All government expenditures should further public purposes and provide tangible benefits to states or municipalities, not simply hand out favors to special interests.”

And now, thanks to the Goldwater Institute, Arizona’s Gift Clause has been reinvigorated and points the way for citizens across the nation to challenge government giveaways, such as union release time.

For more on union release time, see here, here, and here. In addition, see union release time granted to unions in Kentucky, Maryland, and Ohio.