Chamber of Commerce of the U.S. v. Brown

PETITIONER: Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America et al.
RESPONDENT: Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Attorney General of California, et al.
LOCATION: U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay

DOCKET NO.: 06-939
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 554 US 60 (2008)
GRANTED: Nov 20, 2007
ARGUED: Mar 19, 2008
DECIDED: Jun 19, 2008

ADVOCATES:
Michael H. Gottesman - on behalf of the Respondents
Thomas G. Hungar - on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the Petitioners
Willis J. Goldsmith - on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case

After the California legislature passed laws prohibiting the use of state funds to "assist, promote, or deter union organizing," a group of California companies brought suit claiming the state laws were preempted by the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. Section 7. The Act provides that companies' anti-labor speech can only be considered evidence of unfair labor practice if it threatens or coerces workers. The California companies argued that the state laws infringe upon their "safe harbor" for anti-labor speech embodied in the Act.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, after entering two panel decisions holding the California law preempted, issued a split en banc opinion holding that it was not. The Second Circuit has reached the opposite conclusion on similar facts. The Court's decision in this case will affect roughly a dozen other states currently considering adopting legislation substantially similar to the California law.

Question

Does the National Labor Relations Act, which states that companies' anti-labor speech can only be considered unfair labor practice if it threatens or coerces workers, preempt state laws prohibiting the use of state funds to "assist, promote, or deter union organizing," even if the public funds are transparently segregated?

Media for Chamber of Commerce of the U.S. v. Brown

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 19, 2008 in Chamber of Commerce of the U.S. v. Brown

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 19, 2008 in Chamber of Commerce of the U.S. v. Brown

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Stevens has our opinion this morning in case 06-939, Chamber of Commerce of the United States versus Brown.

John Paul Stevens:

The petitioners in this case are several organizations whose members do business with the State of California.

They sued to enjoin enforcement of a California statute which among other things prohibits employers that receive state grants and state program funds from using the funds to assist, promote or deter union organization.

The statute also imposes substantial compliance burdens and litigation risks on any employer that seeks to use its own funds to engage in such speech.

The District Court granted petitioner's partial summary judgment holding that the National Labor Relations Act preempts the grant and program fund restrictions because they regulate the employer's speech about union organizing in circumstances in which Congress intended there to be free debate.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, concluding that Congress did not intend to preclude States from imposing such restrictions in the use of their own funds.

We granted certiorari and now reverse.

For the reasons stated in opinion filed with the clerk, we agree with the District Court that contrary to congressional intent, the challenged provisions of the California statute regulate non-coercive employer speech about union organizing.

Justice Breyer has filed a dissenting opinion that Justice Ginsburg has joined.