ACLU, Unions Sue Michigan Over Right to Work Law
Do you recall what happened at the Wisconsin state Capitol building in March 2011, when the state Senate was considering legislation to curb public employee unions?
For days, union members trashed the place. They blew horns. They swore at legislators unfortunate enough to cross their path. Litter was everywhere.
Meanwhile, all Senate Democrats high-tailed it to Illinois, trying to prevent a vote. Not the prettiest exercise in representative democracy.
In Michigan last December 6, someone at the Republican-controlled legislature decided not to have a replay of Wisconsin. The state police locked the doors at one point during afternoon debates over the proposed right-to-work law, with supporters and opponents who had already gained entrance staying inside. Four hours later, the House and Senate reopened the doors before both houses voted to pass the legislation. On Dec. 11, Gov. Rick Snyder signed it, making Michigan the 24th right-to-work state, which means employees in the Wolverine State can work without having to join a union.
On Thursday, the ACLU and several unions filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the law, arguing that locking out onlookers violated Michigan's open meeting law.
Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, told the AP that once he found out the doors had been closed by state police, Bolger had worked to get them open as quickly as possible.
It took four hours?
Be that as it may, in the galleries, "people were there watching what we were doing. To make it sound like there was some sort of clandestine operation going on in the House or Senate that day is disingenuous," Adler said.
During the contentious passage of ObamaCare in March 2010, Democrats often (usually) met behind closed doors, locking out Republicans. When a new version of the 2,700-page bill was introduced, votes were scheduled within hours so that legislators couldn't actually read it. As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously said, "We have to pass the bill so that you can, uh, find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy."
There was no outcry then from the ACLU or other civil libertarian groups. But in Michigan, it's another story.
The suit names the state of Michigan, the state House and Senate, a state police captain and "unknown" public officials, according to the Associated Press. The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of the Michigan Education Association, several other unions, three Democrat lawmakers and a Michigan State journalism instructor who operates an online news website, the AP reported.
"We have a sacred right to peacefully assemble and petition our government. When there is dissent and emotions are running high, our elected leaders should encourage more open debate, not close the doors to concerned voters," said Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan.
Well, okay then. Let's see the ACLU file a lawsuit to overturn ObamaCare on the grounds that its passage was marked by a distinctly undemocratic process. We're waiting.
Robert Knight is a Senior Fellow for the American Civil Rights Union.