- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Despite the fact that 43 percent of voters from union households cast their ballots for President Bush in 2004 (according to a national exit poll commissioned by the Los Angeles Times), labor unions have routinely directed more than 90 percent of their political expenditures to the candidates and causes of the Democratic Party. Of course that’s outrageous. However, what has been happening in the state of Washington is even more outrageous. So much, in fact, that the Supreme Court of Washington state has turned the First Amendment upside-down.

It did so by invalidating a statute (Section 760 of the state political-campaign law) that protected the rights of free speech and association of employees who have chosen not to join a union. Their refusal to join is oftentimes due to their vehement opposition to the political priorities of the union.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases involving the Washington Education Association, the state’s teachers’ union. Davenport v. WEA involves teachers who are not WEA members but who are compelled to pay the WEA agency shop fees, which are ostensibly used for bargaining activities.

Section 760 does not require the WEA to obtain permission from its voluntary members to use part of their dues for political purposes. It does, however, require the WEA to obtain consent (“affirmative authorization”) from nonmembers to use any portion of their compelled fees for politics. In other words, unless a nonmember affirmatively approves the use of his compelled fees for political activity, it is fair to presume that he dissents from any effort by the union to do so. After all, the nonmember has chosen not to join the union.

In an absurd interpretation of the First Amendment, the Washington Supreme Court declared in a 6-3 decision that Section 760 was unconstitutional because it supposedly restricted the free speech of the union. Claiming that the union “has the [First Amendment] right to use nondissenting nonmembers’ fees for political purposes,” the Washington Supreme Court majority argued that a “presumption of dissent violates the First Amendment rights of both members and nonmembers.” Both?

Let’s take a closer look at the constitutional rights of the nonmembers. The dissenting opinion signed by the three justices in the minority persuasively argued that “the majority turns the First Amendment on its head to invalidate a state statute enacted to further protect the constitutional rights of nonunion members who are required to pay agency fees as the price of employment.” The majority decision “puts in jeopardy the First Amendment right of nonmembers to refuse to associate with a union which uses their money to advance a political agenda with which they might disagree. That is the concern of the First Amendment in this context.”

The U.S. Supreme Court should restore the constitutional rights of nonmembers by overturning the Washington Supreme Court, thereby requiring unions to obtain permission from nonmembers before their fees can be used to finance causes they likely oppose.

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