Criminal Justice

Federal Appeals Court Finds Right to Work law Constitutional

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By: Lakeshore Staff

September 2, 2014 — The State of Indiana has won in the appeal of a federal court legal challenge to Indiana’s right to work law. The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago today affirmed a U.S. District Court ruling of last year that upheld Indiana’s 2012 right to work statute, finding it is not preempted by federal law and does not violate the U.S. Constitution.

The federal appeals court ruling comes two days before the Indiana Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral argument in a state court appeal of a separate legal challenge brought by the same plaintiffs over the same statute. As the lawyer for the state government, the Indiana Attorney General’s Office defends the statutes the Legislature passes from legal challenges that plaintiffs’ lawyers file, in both the federal and state court systems.

“The challenges in both federal and state courts raise legal questions that are appropriately brought to the judiciary to ensure that the right to work law passes constitutional review. Now that the federal courts have concluded the statute the people’s elected representatives in the Legislature passed does not violate federal law, we will argue that the statute also complies with the Indiana Constitution and ought to be upheld,” Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said.

Today’s ruling was in Sweeney et al. v. Pence et al. The plaintiffs had filed their legal challenge against the 2012 statute in federal court, lost at the U.S. District Court level last year, appealed that ruling and lost at the 7th Circuit level. The 2-1 majority opinion authored by federal circuit Judge John Tinder upheld the lower court and the state Legislature’s authority to enact such a law prohibiting involuntary union dues, finding it does not conflict with federal law or the U.S. Constitution. As the federal appeals court’s majority opinion noted on page 31:

“The statutory question posed is whether Indiana’s new law is preempted by federal labor law, or threatens the Union’s First Amendment rights. The answer is an emphatic no . . . . Congress specifically reserved to the states the power to write and enforce laws of this nature, in accordance with individual states’ needs and wisdom.”

After the Sweeney plaintffs’ legal challenge was dismissed by a U.S. District Court last year, they filed a new case in state court challenging the right to work statute. Last year, Lake County Superior Court Judge John Sedia issued a judgment in their favor, though Judge Sedia immediately stayed his ruling and left the right to work law in force. The State appealed, and that appeal will be heard Thursday by the Indiana Supreme Court.

Separate from the federal and state Sweeney cases, a different plaintiff filed its own state challenge to the right to work law in Lake County Circuit Court in the United Steel case. Judge George Paras also issued a judgment prohibiting enforcement of the statute, but the Indiana Supreme Court on Friday issued a stay order that temporarily halted the effect of Judge Paras’ ruling, pending appeal. With both Lake County rulings stayed, the State has the legal ability to enforce the right to work statute in the meantime.

NOTE: The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirming a lower courts’ ruling and upholding Indiana’s right to work law is attached. See pages 15, 18-19 and 31.

Source: Indiana Attorney General’s Office

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