A U.S. Supreme Court case pitting Washington state and some teachers against the Washington Education Association may be affected by a change to the state’s election law.
The state and the nonunion teachers sued the teachers’ union separately for allegedly violating the original statute, which barred unions from using money in political campaigns that was collected as “agency fees” from nonmember workers without first receiving their assent. The Washington Supreme Court ruled that the law was an unconstitutional infringement of the union’s free-speech rights.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard the consolidated cases on Jan. 10. (“Court Hears Case on Use of Fees by Teachers’ Union,” Jan. 17, 2007.)
But a bill signed into law on May 10 stipulates that a union’s political spending from its general fund is not considered to be from agency fees, if there is sufficient revenue from other sources to cover the expenditures. The WEA was among the bill’s supporters.
In briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court, the union says the change means the dispute no longer merits the justices’ attention. The state and the nonunion teachers say the dispute is still valid.
The justices are expected to decide the consolidated cases—Davenport v. Washington Education Association and Washington v. Washington Education Association (Case Nos. 05-1589 and 05-1657)—by the end of June. As one possible outcome, they could direct the state courts to reconsider the case in light of the changed law.
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A version of this article appeared in the May 23, 2007 edition of Education Week