Sunday, February 19, 2012

ACLU and CTA lose in effort to allow teachers mail boxes to be used for political literature

The decision of the Supreme Court of California in the case below is perfectly logical, but it would be nice if both school districts and teacher unions could communicate easily with teachers without paying huge amounts of money for envelopes and postage stamps. Perhaps the teachers union could pay a small rental fee for use of the teachers' mail boxes, and part of the deal would be that school boards could also use the mail boxes for political literature.

Of course, this decision may help people to have more face to face contact, since apparently they now must walk up to each teacher and hand them political information if they want to avoid the expense of mailing the literature. But who has all that time?


Plaintiffs and Respondents,


Defendants and Appellants.

No. S156961.
June 18, 2009

California Teachers Association, Priscilla S. Winslow, Joseph R. Colton, Beverly Tucker, Ballinger G. Kemp and Ramon E. Romero, Burlingame, for Plaintiffs and Respondents.

Rothner, Segall & Greenstone, Glenn Rothner, Lisa C. Demidovich...and Jonathan Cohen as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiffs and Respondents.

...David Blair-Loy... American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties...

Shortly before an election, an employee organization that represents school teachers, and which regularly communicates with its members through school mailboxes, sought to distribute literature through these mailboxes that included endorsements of certain school board candidates.   The school district administration refused to permit such political communication and the employee organization sought a writ of mandate to have that policy overturned.

...Education Code section 7054, subdivision (a)...prohibits the use of “school district ․ funds, services, supplies or equipment” for urging the support or defeat of political candidates or ballot propositions...

“Proponents argue that in general, public funds or resources may not be used for political purposes.   Members of the Legislature, for instance, are prohibited from using legislative funds, resources or personnel time for political purposes, including partisan political activity and advocacy of, or opposition to, ballot measures.   Local government officials are bound by similar prohibitions.   Members of school and community college district governing boards, however, have been exempted from this general rule since 1977.  Education Code section 35174, enacted in 1976, authorizes the use of public resources and employee time for the purpose of urging the support or defeat of school board candidates, school bond measures and any other school ballot measure. This constitutes an inappropriate use of public funds.   Taxpayers' money should not be used for political purposes, whether in state, county, city, special district or school district elections.  

...The bill does, however, repeal the authorization for school board members to use for political purposes district telephones, copying machines, equipment, employees, and materials produced with taxpayer monies.”   (Sen. Rules Com., Off. of Sen. Floor Analyses, Analysis of Sen. Bill No. 82 (Reg.Sess.1995-1996) as amended Aug. 31, 1995, pp. 5-6.)

Two aspects of the above legislative history are noteworthy.  

First, it refers to “materials produced with taxpayer monies,” which school mailboxes clearly are.  

Second, and more significantly, as the legislative history of section 7054 makes clear, it was designed to avoid the use of public resources to perpetuate an incumbent candidate or his or her chosen successor, or to promote self-serving ballot initiatives, thereby compromising the integrity of the electoral process.  

The District contends that permitting employee organizations to use the mailboxes to endorse school board candidates will unfairly advantage those organizations and the candidates they endorse, because it allows them, but not other candidates and organizations, to use the mailboxes to communicate with teachers about these endorsements.   We agree that this special access to an internal channel of communication to influence elections is a potential abuse that section 7054, and the Stanson decision, were designed to guard against.  (See also Vargas v. City of Salinas (2009) 46 Cal.4th 1, 92 Cal.Rptr.3d 286, 205 P.3d 207 [reaffirming Stanson's basic principles].)  

Therefore we conclude, consistent with the purpose of section 7054, that the broad term “equipment” was intended to encompass mailboxes specially constructed at taxpayer expense to serve as a school's internal communication channel, which one group may not use to its exclusive political advantage.   We agree with the Court of Appeal that, unlike school furniture, for example, which may be incidentally used for a host of different purposes, the term “equipment” is plausibly applied to fixtures dedicated to a specific use...

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