IN Judge Rules 'Right-to-Work' Unconstitutional; Law Will Remain in Effect While AG Files Appeal

A Lake County, IN, judge decided yesterday that the state’s “Right-to-Work” law is unconstitutional, sending the dubious anti-worker legislation to the Indiana Supreme Court for further review. The law was signed into law on February 1, 2012, by then-governor Mitch Daniels, and has been challenged in court before. But this latest development, which stems from an International Union of Operating Engineers’ lawsuit, sets the path for a conclusive legal fate for “Right-to-Work” in the Hoosier state.

After the decision, IUOE Local 150 president-business manager James M. Sweeney said:

This is a victory for the middle class. These laws are nothing but thinly veiled tools to weaken unions, and this is a big win for workers who rely on unions to provide decent wages and benefits.”

After the decision a spokesman for Attorney General Greg Zoeller announced in a statement that the Attorney General’s office would appeal:

The State will take an immediate appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court of this declaratory judgment which we contend is incorrect, in light of the fact the same court granted the State’s motion to dismiss on four other counts. The Indiana Attorney General’s Office will aggressively defend the authority of the people’s elected representatives in the Legislature as we successfully defended this same statute from the same plaintiff who challenged it in federal court.”

In his decision, Lake County Superior Court judge John Sedia cited Article I, Section 21 of the Indiana Constitution. It reads: “No person’s particular services shall be demanded, without just compensation.” The lawsuit brought forward by union also claims that “Right-to-Work” infringes on free speech and deprives unions of equal protection rights.  

Rep. Jerry Torr, one of the state’s leading “Right-to-Work” advocates, said he believes the Supreme Court will rule in favor of the bill’s constitutionality:

I remember when the labor unions first raised that argument in one of the committees and for a second, I thought, ‘Oh … that’s a great argument,’ ” Torr said. “Then I thought it through, and it’s just nonsense.”

Recent rulings by the Indiana Supreme Court have leaned to the right. Joel Schumm, a law pro­fessor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, said that Section 21 of the Indiana Constitution has historically applied to individuals. He told, “Unions are not generally thought of as a ‘person,’ nor are they organizations that existed when the Indiana Constitution was ratified in 1851.”

“In the past few months,” he added, “the court has upheld legislation authorizing school vouchers and the imposition and collection of fines against the Democratic legislators who went to ­Illinois during session.”

WRTV Indianapolis has reported that the law will remain in effect while an appeal is filed.  

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Chaz Bolte
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