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George Will: Labor board at schoolhouse door

Register • May 24, 2013 at 6:32 AM

Early in an opinion issued recently by a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Judge Raymond Randolph says: “Although the parties have not raised it, one issue needs to be resolved before we turn to the merits of the case.”

The issue he raised but could not resolve — that is up to the Supreme Court — illuminates the Obama administration’s George Wallace-like lawlessness. It also demonstrates the judiciary’s duty to restrain presidents who forget the oath they swear to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.”

The appeals court was deciding whether the National Labor Relations Board has the power to issue the rule requiring about 6 million private-sector employers to post notices informing workers of their right to join a union. Failure to post the notice would be, the NLRB says, an “unfair labor practice,” equivalent to interfering with, restraining or coercing employees. 

The regulation of speech about unionization has been tightly restricted for many decades. In 1947, Congress amended the National Labor Relations Act with this: “The expressing of any views, argument, or opinion, or the dissemination thereof, whether in written, printed, graphic, or visual form, shall not constitute or be evidence of an unfair labor practice under any of the provisions of this (act), if such expression contains no threat of reprisal or force or promise of benefit.”

The Supreme Court had already held that employers have First Amendment free speech rights to engage in non-coercive speech about unionization.

In the recent case, the NLRB argued that the required posting is its own speech, not the speech of any employer. The appeals court disagreed, and cited some “firmly established principles” of free-speech law, including “the right to decide not to disseminate” the speech of others.

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