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A state is not constitutionally obligated to provide payroll deductions at all. While publicly administered payroll deductions for political purposes can enhance a unions' exercise of First Amendment rights, a State is under no obligation to aid a union in its political activities. And a State's decision not to do so is not an abridgment of the union's speech; it is free to engage in such speech as it sees fit. It is simply are barred from enlisting the State in support of that endeavor. A State's decision to limit public employer payroll deductions is not subject to strict scrutiny under the First Amendment.
Idaho's Right to Work Act permits public employees to authorize payroll deductions for general union dues, but prohibits such deductions for union political activities. Respondents--a group of Idaho public employee unions--sued, alleging that the ban on payroll deductions for political activities violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The District Court upheld the ban at the state level, but struck it down as it applies to local governments. In affirming, the Ninth Circuit stated that, while Idaho has the ultimate control over local governmental units, it did not actually operate or control their payroll deduction systems. The court applied strict scrutiny to hold that the statute was unconstitutional as applied at the local level.
As applied to local governmental units, does Idaho's ban on political payroll deductions infringe the unions' First Amendment rights?
The court held that the First Amendment did not confer an affirmative right to use government payroll mechanisms to obtain funds for expression, nor did it prevent a State from deciding that its political subdivisions could not provide payroll deductions for political activities. Idaho had no obligation to aid the unions in their political activities, thus, only a rational basis had to be shown to justify the political payroll deduction ban. The same deferential review applied on the local level. Section 44-2004(2) did not restrict political speech; it declined to promote that speech by allowing public employee checkoffs for political activities. Such a decision was reasonable in light of the State's interest in avoiding the appearance that carrying out the public's business was tainted by partisan political activity and that interest extended to local governments as well. Political subdivisions, created by the State for the better ordering of government, had no privileges or immunities under the federal constitution which they could invoke in opposition to the will of its creator State. That the State did not subsidize local government payroll deductions was immaterial. The Ninth Circuit erred.