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1851 to Supreme Court: Forced Funding of Unions Violates Free Speech

1851 Center Amicus Brief argues that government employees who aren’t union members can’t be forced to pay hundreds of dollars per year to unions

Columbus, OH – The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law petitioned the United States Supreme Court to rule in favor of the Petitioner in a case challenging the constitutionality of public sector unions’ power to force public employees to pay union “agency fees.”

In Janus v. AFSCME, the Petitioner argues that government employees who opt not to be union members cannot be forced to pay fees in lieu of membership dues, to the union. Petitioner Mark Janus argues that nonmember employees cannot be forced to pay such fees because unions use the fees to fund their collective bargaining advocacy, union collective bargaining advocacy is inherently political, and the First Amendment prohibits enactments forcing American to subsidize the private political speech of others.

This case is of particular importance in Ohio, where 1,062 separate public employers maintain collective bargaining agreements requiring public employees who are not union members to pay agency fees to unions or be fired. These agreements affect 312,506 Ohio public employees who are forced to pay fees that average $700 per year.

The 1851 Center Brief explains and argues as follows:

  • Just as the First Amendment prevents government from prohibiting speech, it prevents government from compelling individuals to express certain views or pay subsidies for speech to which they object.
  • Forcing public employees to subsidize unions’ collective bargaining advocacy is no different than forcing such employees to fund the lobbying of public officials, since unions advocate for highly ideological outcomes through collective bargaining that raise taxes and spending while protecting poor performance and blocking reforms.
  • Collective bargaining advocacy can often be injurious to nonmembers’ self interests whether through raising their taxes, ensuring their own layoffs, or supporting political views they oppose.
  • The exception to the freedom from forced political speech the Supreme Court previously created for unions overlooked the highly political, ideological, and controversial nature of the policies public sector unions advocate for through collective bargaining.

“Just as no public employee may be forced to fund a political party, no public employee should be forced to fund objectionable union advocacy that has an even greater impact on our everyday lives,” explained 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson. “A complete victory in Janus will protect dissenting employees’ freedom of speech. Equally important, it will end forced funding of government unions in Ohio and restore to its proper place the artificially-inflated political power unions have used to raise government spending and taxes while blocking important reforms.”

“Government unions’ legal fight to deny employees the right to choose displays that their acknowledgment that they offer too little value at too high of a price,” continued Thompson, “Other non-profit organizations operate on voluntary contributions, and so should unions.”

Janus v. AFSCME only affects the rights of public sector workers as against public sector unions. It does not address private sector agency fees, which would remain intact. Nor would a victory in Janus prevent labor unions from collecting voluntary contributions.

The 1851 Center’s amicus brief in Janus v. AFSCME was coauthored by labor policy analysis Jason A. Hart.

Read the 1851 Center’s Amicus Brief HERE

Read the 1851 Center’s Columbus Dispatch editorial supporting Right to Work HERE

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Court: $100 Per Day Fines for Yard Signs Unconstitutional

Ohio city’s ban on political yard signs except directly before and after elections violates free speech, property rights

August 30, 2017: Toledo, OH – A federal court prohibited an Ohio city from fining citizens who display political yard signs for longer than 67 days.

The ruling, made by Judge Jeffrey J. Helmick of the Northern District of Ohio, forbids the City from enforcing local zoning ordinances to stifle free speech. The Court’s Order stops the City from determining which signs are “political,” limiting the display of “political” yard signs on private property to periods of time just before or after an election, or imposing fines on citizens who display such signs.

The ruling comes in response to a First Amendment lawsuit filed by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law on August 15, 2017 on behalf of independent Perrysburg City Council candidate Charles “Chip” Pfleghaar and other Perrysburg citizens seeking to display their discontent with Perrysburg’s elected officials.

The 1851 Center’s lawsuit asserts that prohibiting signs on private property – or limiting the display of such signs to just two months of the year – simply because the signs reference politicians, government, or public policy issues, violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 11, Article I of the Ohio Constitution.

In late July the City’s zoning inspector ordered Mr. Pleghaar to remove two relatively-modest signs advocating for his own election to city council or face fines of up to $100 per day for each day he displayed the signs in his yard.

The City cited its own local ordinance prohibiting signs with political messages except directly before and after elections, which it had previously cited to order citizens to remove Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton signs, as well as signs advocating for lower property taxes. In support of the ordinance, the City claims it prohibits political signs “to enhance the physical appearance of the City . . . to create an appearance that is attractive . . . and to improve traffic safety.”

“Ohioans should remain free to use their private property however they would like, so long as they abstain from inflicting harm on others. This of course includes displaying yard signs criticizing incumbent politicians, advocating for lower taxes, or advertising a business. When Ohio cities attempt to regulate signs on private property, they both abridge our free speech and violate our property rights at the same time,” explains Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

“Yard signs are an efficient way for a homeowner to criticize public officials and identify where he or she stands on an issue. These signs are particularly important to political outsiders with lower name identification and less-established donor and political networks, and likely the ultimate example of outsider-driven grass-roots politics, as the average homeowner lacks access to media outlets or the capacity to make large donations to candidates or issues.”

Read the Homeowners’ Complaint HERE

Read the Homeowners’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction HERE

Read the Court’s Order HERE

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Federal Court Approves Class Action on Ohio City’s Illegal Home Inspections

Legal Center: Fees that City’s homeowners were forced to pay to fund unconstitutional “point of sale” inspections must now be returned

Cleveland, OH – A federal court certified a class action lawsuit against the City of Bedford, Ohio, explaining that all homeowners who were forced to endure government searches as a precondition to the sale of their homes are entitled to demand refunds of illegal “Point of Sale” inspection fees.

This ruling paves the way for the return of inspections fees to all affected homeowners, rather than just those who filed the lawsuit.

The Order, made by Judge Benita Pearson of the Northern District of Ohio, confirms class action lawsuits may be maintained against city governments who extort their citizens and businesses in a widespread manner, such as through violating their Fourth Amendment rights through sweeping city-wide home inspection requirements.

Specifically, Judge Pearson certified classes of all individuals or businesses that have been subject to the inspections and paid inspection fees to the City of Bedford in conjunction with the inspections, explaining that “Citizens are entitled to “return of Point of Sale and Rental Inspection fees illegal paid to [the City of Bedford].”

“Class action litigation is an excellent method for average citizens to even the playing field when fighting back against their corrupt and otherwise indifferent local governments. This ruling confirms that Ohio cities must be held just as responsible to their citizens as big corporations are to their customers,” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

In May of 2016, the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law moved to immediately enjoin Ohio cities, and the Cities of Bedford and Oakwood in particular, from enforcing “point of sale” and “presale” programs that require citizens to endure and pass arbitrary and warrantless government inspections before they could sell their homes to even the most informed and willing buyers.

In each case, the Cities had threatened to criminally prosecute and even imprison homeowners who sold their homes without first submitting to and passing city inspections. In Bedford, the City also claimed the power to block home sales on account of “architectural style and detail,” “color,” and lack of “orderly appearance.”

Within days of the 1851 Center’s lawsuits, each city rescinded its policies. However each has refused to return illegal inspection fees.

Such municipal ordinances, in addition to restricting Ohioans’ property rights, subject homeowners to open-ended warrantless searches of every interior and exterior space of a home, violating the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 14, Article I of the Ohio Constitution.

“Local governments do not have unlimited authority to force entry into Ohioans’ homes or businesses. To the contrary ‘houses’ are one of the types of property specifically mentioned by the Fourth Amendment; and Ohioans have every moral and constitutional entitlement to exclude others, even government agents, from their property,” adds Thompson. “The right to own property in Ohio has little value if local governments can continuously chip away at one’s right to actually make use of that property, requiring government permission slips for basic arrangements such as the sale of one’s home to a willing buyer.”

The legal action against Bedford is filed on behalf of area landlord Ken Pund, who is forbidden from selling to his daughter a home that he owns and she already resides in, and John Diezic who was prohibited from selling his Bedford home due to minor cracks in the asphalt of his driveway.

Read the Court’s Order HERE

Read the Property Owners’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction HERE

Check out Maurice Thompson discussing the case against Ohio governments’ forced home inspections below:

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This lawsuit is brought in partnership with the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association (“OREIA”), the Finney Law Firm in Cincinnati, and the law firm of Berns, Ockner & Greenberger in Cleveland.

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Lower Your Local Tax Bill This Summer

1851 Center teaches citizens how to use local initiatives to place tax cut proposals on the ballot

Are you tired of do-nothing politicians but still looking to make a difference in government?

Have you recently opened an envelope with an unacceptably-large property tax bill? Or just paid an unreasonable amount of local income taxes?

Unbeknownst to many, Ohio law invites civic-minded Ohioans to initiate relatively simple petition drives to place tax cut proposals on the ballot.

In A Citizen’s Guide to Reducing Your Local Tax Burden, the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law provides citizens with detailed, practical, and clear advice on how to lower their school district property or income taxes, as well as city, village, and township taxes, through a little known state statute.

By collecting just a few hundred valid signatures, over-taxed Ohioans can certify ballot issues to cut or repeal sky-rocketing local property or income taxes.

And there has never been a better time for such efforts:

  • Ohioans have never been more entitled to tax relief. Local property and income taxes in Ohio have sharply increased during the Kasich Administration. Some estimate that Ohioans local tax burdens have increased by an average of 40 percent since Kasich took office.
  • Ohioans are now subject to the ninth highest combined state and local tax burden in the nation, and the highest amongst all Midwestern states.
  • There’s no indication that state or local politicians will do anything to curb this continuous cycle of levy elections and tax hikes. But local initiatives are a means by which citizens can circumvent unhelpful public officials and take matters into their own hands.

The 1851 Center provides free legal assistance to those interested in placing a tax relief proposal on their local ballot this fall.

You may not be able to influence what goes on in Washington D.C., or even Columbus. But through a local petition drive, you can directly influence your tax rate. And you don’t need to be a lobbyist or donate to a political campaign to do it.

You have a right to keep more of the money you’ve earned. And by passing a local tax cut, more of your hard-earned dollars can be diverted away from waste and devoted to you and your family’s health, education, safety, and general well-being.

Read A Citizen’s Guide to Reducing Your Local Tax Burden HERE.