Ysursa v. Pocatello Education Association

PETITIONER: Ben Ysursa, Idaho Secretary of State, et al.
RESPONDENT: Pocatello Education Association, et al.
LOCATION: Idaho Education Association: Region 5

DOCKET NO.: 07-869
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 555 US (2009)
GRANTED: Mar 31, 2008
ARGUED: Nov 03, 2008
DECIDED: Feb 24, 2009

ADVOCATES:
Clay Riggs Smith - Deputy Attorney General, Boise, Idaho, argued the cause for the petitioners
Jeremiah A. Collins - argued the cause for the respondents

Facts of the case

The plaintiffs in this case are comprised of labor organizations suing officials of the State of Idaho. The organizations claim that Idaho's Voluntary Contributions Act (VCA) violates their First Amendment free speech rights by restricting their ability to participate in any activities the VCA defines as "political." The State officials conceded the unconstitutionality of many of the VCA's provisions, however they argued for the validity of prohibiting payroll deductions for "political activities." The U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho held the payroll deduction provisions constitutional as applied to the state government but unconstitutional when applied to private and local government employees. The State officials appealed, contending that the provisions should be equally applicable to both groups.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the district court's ruling that the payroll deduction provisions could not be applied to private and local government employees because the State had provided no "compelling justification" to do so. Furthermore, the court stated that the officials had failed to show that the case should be reviewed under the more relaxed standard for a "non-public" forum.

Question

Do provisions of Idaho's Voluntary Contributions Act prohibiting payroll deductions for "political activities" violate the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment when applied to local government employees?

Media for Ysursa v. Pocatello Education Association

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 03, 2008 in Ysursa v. Pocatello Education Association

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 24, 2009 in Ysursa v. Pocatello Education Association

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

I have our opinion this morning in case 07-869, Ysursa versus Pocatello Education Association.

Under Idaho law, a public employee may elect to have a portion of his wages deducted and remitted to his union to pay union dues.

But Idaho law prohibits payroll deductions for political activities.

So a public employee may not have a dues checkoff for the union's political action committee.

A group of Idaho public employee unions sued, alleging that Idaho's ban on payroll deductions for political activities violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The First Amendment prohibits government from "abridging the freedom of speech".

Restrictions that single out a category of speech for disfavored treatment are presumptively invalid.

First Amendment does not, however, impose an obligation on government to subsidize speech.

A State is therefore not required to assist others in funding the expression of particular ideas.

Idaho's law does not restrict political speech but rather declines to promote that speech by allowing public employee checkoffs for political activities.

Idaho's public employee unions are free to engage in such speech as they see fit.

They simply are barred from enlisting the State in support of that endeavor.

Idaho's decision to limit public employee payroll deductions as it has does not infringe the unions' First Amendment rights.

The State accordingly need only demonstrate a rational basis to justify the ban.

Idaho's justification is the interest in avoiding the reality or appearance of government favoritism or entanglement with partisan politics.

And the State's response targets its source, political payroll deductions.

The ban plainly serves the State's interest in separating public employment from political activities.

Now, the union say that whether or not all that is true, that only justifies the ban at the level of state employers not local government employers.

But the same analysis applies whether the ban is directed at state or local government entities.

Political subdivisions have never been considered sovereign entities but are instead subordinate governmental instrumentalities carrying out state governmental functions.

Idaho's interest in separating the operation of government from parties and politics extends to all public employers at whatever level of government.

Now, given the relationship between the State and its political subdivisions, it is immaterial how the State allocates funding or management responsibilities between the different levels of government.

The First Amendment analysis does not vary depending on the level of government affected.

The State is not required to promote political speech by allowing public employee checkoffs for political activities.

The decision of the Court of Appeals is reversed.

Justice Ginsburg has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

Justice Breyer has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

And Justices Stevens and Souter have filed dissenting opinions.