- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Supreme Court said yesterday that it will decide whether a teachers union can collect fees from nonunion members and spend their money on political activity without their prior permission.

The court also agreed to hear a case that could determine whether the government may deport up to 8,000 criminal aliens, and accepted an appeal from Arizona to reinstate the death penalty against a two-time killer who says his attorney was ineffective.

In the union case, the court will decide whether the Washington Education Association (WEA) can spend money, collected from 3,000 nonunion teachers, on political activity without their prior consent. The teachers are required to pay fees to the union even if they don’t belong to it because they are deemed to benefit from collective bargaining.

Washington state’s Supreme Court ruled that the requirement is unconstitutional because it puts too much burden on the union to check with every nonmember.

The dispute actually involves two cases. One is an appeal by the state’s attorney general defending the law, and the other is an appeal on behalf of teachers.

Stefan Gleason, vice president of the Fairfax-based National Right to Work Foundation, which is working on behalf of the teachers, said the case has big stakes because the state court’s ruling could be seen to create a right to collect money even from nonunion teachers.

“We’re trying to get the state Supreme Court overturned not necessarily because the underlying law is all that helpful, but particularly because of the bad precedent that was created,” he said.

Charles Hasse, president of WEA, said that opponents are trying to turn the case “into a cause celebre” but that the union has taken steps to segregate nonmembers’ fees so they don’t pay for political activity. He said that means even if the high court overturns the state court ruling, the outcome will not penalize the union.

“We feel confident the courts will find we complied with the law as best anyone can with such a poorly worded initiative,” he said.

The Supreme Court also agreed to hear a challenge to an appeals court ruling that the government says could prevent deportation of up to 8,000 criminal aliens. The case involves a Peruvian citizen who holds a green card, signifying legal permanent residence in the United States, and turns on whether aiding in a theft is a serious enough crime to warrant deportation.

In the death penalty appeal, the court said it would hear the case of a man who was serving time for murder in Oklahoma, escaped prison and a month later killed a man in Phoenix.

His death sentence was overturned on appeal when a court ruled his attorney should have made a better effort to submit evidence that he was predisposed to violence and suffered brain damage that made him unable to understand the criminal nature of his acts. But Arizona argued that the man, Jeffrey Landrigan, told the trial court that he didn’t want to introduce evidence that would have argued against a death sentence.

Both the criminal alien and death penalty disputes are appeals of cases decided in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, as is another set of cases the court agreed to hear — on whether companies are doing enough to notify customers about penalties or rate increases they assess because of adverse information in credit reports.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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