Friday, October 16, 2015
Eleventh Circuit: Ala. Education Assoc. Not Entitled To Discovery About Legislators' Subjective Intent In Passing Law Limiting Use of Funds
The Eleventh Circuit held yesterday that the Alabama Education Association (AEA) could not enforce subpoenas for lawmakers' files in its suit claiming that state Republicans retaliated against the association by eliminating automatic state payroll deductions for membership dues used for political activity. In 2010, the Alabama Legislature passed Act 761, which prohibited payroll deductions for state and local public-sector employee association dues if membership dues funded political activity. The AEA sued under sec. 1983, claiming that Act 761 violated its First Amendment rights because the the subjective motivations of lawmakers in passing the Act governmental retaliation against the AEA for its political speech on education policy. During the suit, the AEA sought subpoenas to show that state Republicans retaliated against the association by passing the restriction on payroll deductions of its members. Alabama legislators responded that legislative privilege shielded them from the AEA’s subpoenas to probe lawmakers' motivations for passing Act 761. The Eleventh Circuit agreed with the legislators. While acknowledging that the AEA's First Amendment claim was an important federal interest, that interest did not yield to legislative privilege. The circuit court distinguished those cases in which the federal interest would outweigh legislative privilege, such as a criminal prosecution. The court held, "the First Amendment does not support the kind of claim AEA makes here: a challenge to an otherwise constitutional statute based on the subjective motivations of the lawmakers who passed it." The Eleventh Circuit further relied on the Supreme Court's holding in United States v. O’Brien, 391 U.S. 367 (1968), that, as a “principle of constitutional law,” courts cannot “strike down an otherwise constitutional statute on the basis of an alleged illicit legislative motive.” The case is In Re: Bentley, 13-10382 (Hubbard v. Alabama Education Association) here.