Supreme Court Victory for Teachers' First Amendment Rights
Washington, D.C., June 14, 2007— The Competitive Enterprise Institute hailed today's unanimous Supreme Court decision, in Davenport v. Washington Education Association, upholding the First Amendment rights of teachers and other public employees who object to their fees being used for political campaigning. CEI had joined an amicus brief filed by Washington State’s Evergreen Freedom Foundation on behalf of the teacher’s lawsuit.
The Court today ruled that a Washington state initiative did not infringe on the free speech rights of the Washington Education Association, which has state-backed power to collect fees from teachers, by requiring it to obtain the consent of individual fee payers before spending their money on political campaigns. The Court reaffirmed that when the law forces people to pay fees to unions or other organizations, it is the individuals who have the First Amendment right not to be coerced into letting their money be spent on political causes with which they disagree.
"The U.S. Supreme Court correctly overturned a ruling by the Washington State Supreme Court, which erroneously held that it violates the First Amendment rights of a union to require it to gain the affirmative consent of non-union workers before using their dues for political purposes," said CEI Counsel for Special Projects Hans Bader. "The non-union workers were compelled to pay dues to the union as a condition of their employment. The Washington State Supreme Court had turned the First Amendment upside down, by converting it into a sword to be used against non-union workers, rather than—as the U.S. Supreme Court had intended—a shield. Today the court reaffirmed its strong stance against forcing individuals to fund speech that they are opposed to."
Bader cited Thomas Jefferson’s statement that "to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical."
CEI labor researcher Ivan Osorio added, "For too long, government unions have, with government sanction, held hostage the dues and fees of public employees who object to the union’s political agenda. This ruling has the potential to expand the protections of objecting teachers under the Abood and Hudson rulings, by putting the onus where it should be—the union, not individual teachers."
John Berlau, the director of CEI's Center for Entrepreneurship, hopes the ruling will be applied to other forced-fee organizations, such as the mandatory federal check-off programs that force farmers to fund advertising for commodities such as pork and milk.
"Business people and entrepreneurs should not be forced to collectively fund industry advertising," Berlau says. "This goes against freedom of conscience and the free market, two cornerstones of what this country is about. Congress should heed the court's warning and repeal all forced-dues programs that coerce funding of a collective voice."
CEI is a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government. For more information about CEI, please visit our website at www.cei.org.