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Ysursa v. Pocatello Educ. Ass'n

Supreme Court of the United States

November 3, 2008, Argued; February 24, 2009, Decided

No. 07-869


 [*355]  [**1096] Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court.

Under Idaho law, a public employee may elect to have a portion of his wages deducted by his employer and remitted to his union to pay union dues. He may not, however, choose to have an amount deducted and remitted to the union's political action committee, because Idaho law prohibits payroll deductions for political activities. A group of unions representing Idaho public employees challenged this limitation. They conceded that the limitation was valid as applied at the state level, but argued that it violated their First Amendment rights when applied to county, municipal, school district, and other local public employers.

We do not agree. The First Amendment prohibits government from "abridging the freedom of speech"; it does not confer an affirmative right to use government payroll mechanisms for the purpose of obtaining funds for expression. Idaho's law does not restrict political speech, but rather declines to promote that speech by allowing public employee checkoffs for political activities. Such a decision is  [****5] 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. That interest extends to government at the local as well as state level, and nothing in the First Amendment prevents a State from determining that its political subdivisions may not provide payroll deductions for political activities.

Idaho's Right to Work Act declares that the "right to work shall not be infringed or restricted in any way based on membership in, affiliation with, or financial support of a labor organization or on refusal to join, affiliate with, or financially or otherwise support a labor organization." 1985 Idaho Sess. Laws ch. 2, § 1 (codified at Idaho Code § 44-2001 (Michie 2003)). As part of that policy, the Act prohibits any requirement for the payment of dues or fees to a labor organization  [*356]  as a condition of employment, § 44-2003, but authorizes employers to deduct union fees from an employee's wages with the employee's "signed written authorization," § 44-2004(1). The Act covers all employees, "including all employees of the state and its political subdivisions." § 44-2011.

 [***776]  Prior to 2003, employees could  [****6] authorize both a payroll deduction for general union dues and a payroll deduction for union political activities conducted through a political action committee. App. 55-56, 83-84. In 2003, the Idaho Legislature passed the Voluntary Contributions Act (VCA). 2003 Sess. Laws chs. 97 and 340 (codified at Idaho Code §§ 44-2601 through 44-2605, and § 44-2004). That legislation, among other things, amended the Right to Work Act by adding a prohibition on payroll deductions for political purposes. That amendment provides: HN7LEdHN[7][7] "Deductions for political activities as defined in chapter 26, title 44, Idaho Code, shall not be deducted from the wages, earnings or compensation of an employee." § 44-2004(2). HN8LEdHN[8][8] The term "political activities" is defined as "electoral activities, independent expenditures, or expenditures made to any candidate, political party, political action committee or political issues committee or in support of or against any ballot measure." § 44-2602(1)(e). Violations of § 44-2004(2) are punishable by a fine not exceeding [**1097]  $ 1,000 or up to 90 days of imprisonment, or both. § 44-2007.

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555 U.S. 353 *; 129 S. Ct. 1093 **; 172 L. Ed. 2d 770 ***; 2009 U.S. LEXIS 1632 ****; 77 U.S.L.W. 4105; 157 Lab. Cas. (CCH) P60,757; 157 Lab. Cas. (CCH) P11,177; 185 L.R.R.M. 3121; 72 A.L.R.6th 751; 21 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 637


Subsequent History: On remand at, Remanded by Pocatello Educ. Ass'n v. Heideman, 561 F.3d 1048, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 7864 (D.C. Cir., Apr. 13, 2009)


Pocatello Educ. Ass'n v. Heideman, 504 F.3d 1053, 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 23811 (9th Cir. Idaho, 2007)

Disposition: Reversed.


payroll deduction, political activity, deductions, political subdivision, ban, political speech, public employer, regulated, funds, local government, strict scrutiny, appearance, viewpoint, employees, municipal, avoiding, limits, labor organization, abridgment, purposes, rights, level of government, partisan politics, private employer, state level, speech-related, Contributions, restricting, entities, public employee

Labor & Employment Law, Wage & Hour Laws, Assignments & Deductions, Unfair Labor Practices, Employer Violations, Union Dues Violations, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Freedoms, Freedom of Speech, Public Employees, Governments, Local Governments, Employees & Officials, Scope, Business & Corporate Compliance, Interference With Protected Activities, State & Territorial Governments, Judicial & Legislative Restraints, General Overview, Evidence, Inferences & Presumptions, Presumptions, Political Speech, Relations With Governments, Privileges & Immunities