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Lawyers: Supreme Court Likely To Uphold Right To Work Law

Two Indiana University lawyers say the state Supreme Court is unlikely to agree with a lower court ruling that Indiana's right to work law is unconstitutional.

Statehouse steps

Photo: Christopher Ayers/WFIU-WTIU News

The state Attorney General plans to appeal the decision directly to the state’s high court and legal experts say the law’s future is likely secure.

The fate of Indiana’s right to work law now likely rests in the hands of the Indiana Supreme Court after a Lake County judge’s decision struck down the measure. The Indiana Attorney General plans to appeal the decision directly to the state’s high court.

But legal experts say the law’s future is likely secure.

Lake County Judge John Sedia’s order says right to work wrongly forces unions to represent workers who pay no dues.

Specifically, Sedia ruled the law violates a section of the Indiana Constitution that says no person’s services shall be demanded without just compensation.

It is that language and the constitution’s use of the word ‘person’ that Indiana University law professor David Orentlicher says will likely become a focus of the Supreme Court’s deliberations.

“One way to overturn the trial court would be to say this protection applies to individuals and the right to work law applies to unions and so companies or organizations are not covered, only individuals,” Orentlicher says.

IU law professor Joel Schumm says the Supreme Court has typically been deferential to the legislature and its public policy decisions.

“They have found things unconstitutional before but it’s pretty uncommon and it’s a pretty high bar and I don’t think the bar’s really been met in this case,” he says.

Both Schumm and Orentlicher say they expect the Supreme Court to overturn Judge Sedia’s ruling and keep right to work in place.

Both supporters and opponents of the law are also predicting the Indiana Supreme Court will likely not strike down the controversial measure.

In a statement, Indiana House Minority Leader Scott Pelath praised the decision but says he has little faith the Supreme Court will uphold the ruling.  Indianapolis Democratic Representative Ed DeLaney shares his colleague’s pessimistic outlook.

“Between the complexities of federal labor law and state constitutional law, the chances of threading the needle to a decision that repeals Right to Work or stops it are not high.  I’m being realistic about that,” DeLaney says.

Speaker Brian Bosma says he and other lawmakers considered potential legal challenges while drafting the law, including questions over the specific provision Sedia cites.

“And it had traditionally been interpreted to apply to individuals and not to organizations and we’re just very comfortable in the hands of Greg Zoeller that the Supreme Court will see that as well,” Bosma says.

Bosma says he isn’t shocked that a ruling unfavorable to Right to Work came out of Lake County, a traditionally Democratic stronghold.  Sedia, however, was an appointee of former Republican governor Mitch Daniels.

Brandon Smith, IPBS

Brandon Smith, IPBS has previously worked as a reporter and anchor for KBIA Radio in Columbia, MO, and at WSPY Radio in Plano, IL as a show host, reporter, producer and anchor. Brandon graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2010, with minors in political science and history. He was born and raised in Chicago.

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