Michigan Appeals Court to Hear Free-speech Case
Washington, DC — Michigan Education
Association (MEA) President Luigi Battaglieri declared at a media conference
(which he called) that he admired what the Mackinac Center for Public Policy — a
rival organization — had done. Media conferences are normally events where
speakers expect to be quoted; nonetheless, Battaglieri and his union filed a
lawsuit to keep that quote quiet. A Michigan appeals court took the unusual
step of stopping a trial court from hearing the case so it could decide for
itself the validity of the case on its merits. The Michigan Court of Appeals
will hear the case Thursday, February 5, in Lansing.
On September 27, 2001, Battaglieri said, ". . .
quite frankly, I admire what they [the Mackinac Center] have done over the last
couple of years entering into the field as they have and being pretty much the
sole provider of research to the community, to the public, to our members, to
legislators . . . ." The Mackinac Center then drew from that quote in a letter
to its supporters and potential supporters pointing out that even an individual
who usually disagrees with them has recognized the Center’s effectiveness.
The two organizations often debate issues in
the court of public opinion, but in this instance, the MEA and its president
sought to use the courts of law to stifle debate. The MEA claimed the Mackinac
Center "misappropriated" Battaglieri’s "likeness" by using the quote in a
year-end fundraising newsletter. The Mackinac Center and the Institute for
Justice, which represents the Center free of charge, say the lawsuit represents
a blatant attack on free speech.
"Mr. Battaglieri and his union are attempting
to use the courts to stifle public debate," said Clark Neily, a senior attorney
with the Institute for Justice. "In their lawsuit they claim the Mackinac
Center has no right to inform supporters and potential supporters of the truth:
that Mr. Battaglieri acknowledged to a room full of reporters how effective the
Center has been in its work. Of course, that’s absurd. The Mackinac Center has
every right to accurately quote the MEA’s president when he praises the
effectiveness of its work."
The lawsuit has
been winding through the courts since the lawsuit was filed on March 8, 2002.
The parties then filed cross-motions for summary disposition (essentially
motions asking the court for a speedy decision based on the briefs filed) by
October of that year and the trial court judge denied both in December 2002.
The following January, the Mackinac Center and the Institute for Justice asked
the Michigan Court of Appeals to hear the case on its merits before the lower
court conducted a trial. The appeals court accepted that motion in July 2003
and the case is now going to be argued before the court February 5.
"It is ludicrous
to demand that a public policy institute get permission from its opponents to
quote them," Neily said. "The First Amendment case law on this point is so
clear that it makes you wonder what’s really going on. If MEA officials think
they can silence speech they don’t like with frivolous lawsuits like this one,
they are sadly mistaken."
"The MEA is suing because
independent research threatens the union’s bottom line," said Joseph Lehman,
Mackinac Center executive vice president. "Mackinac Center research has shown
some of the harmful effects of compulsory unionism and the benefits of school
choice. Our analysts have proposed that no teacher be forced to financially
support a union as a condition of employment. Any organization dependent on
compulsory support might feel threatened by that."
In its newsletter last April,
the union told its 159,000 members to "unsubscribe" to Michigan Education
Report, a quarterly published by the Mackinac Center and sent to teachers for
free. Lehman said, "Apparently the MEA doesn’t want teachers to read news that
isn’t filtered through the union."
Interestingly, the MEA and its
president do not hold themselves to the same standard they demand of the
Mackinac Center. Battaglieri admitted that his MEA used the names of Arnold
Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods without seeking or receiving their
permission to promote an MEA golf tournament fundraiser. The exact statement
published by the MEA went as follows:
"Palmer, Woods, Nicklaus and
Truth be told, this may be the
only time that MEA President Lu Battaglieri’s name will ever be mentioned in the
same breath with these gods of golf.
And because Palmer, Nicklaus
and Woods aren’t available to play in MEA’s Scholarship Fund golf outing on June
20 at Royal Scot in Lansing, Battaglieri is looking for three players to fill
out his foursome."
Neily said, "Using professional golfers’
names without permission is merely one example of how the MEA seeks to apply one
set of rules to its own speech and a far more restrictive set of rules to the
Mackinac Center’s speech." The Institute for Justice can provide additional
documented examples discovered during the lawsuit.
The Mackinac Center for Public
Policy is a 16-year-old nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research institute that
studies state and local policy questions on topics including education, labor
law, fiscal policy, economic development and the environment. The Institute for
Justice is a nonprofit public interest law firm that litigates in defense of
free speech and other constitutional rights.
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[NOTE: To arrange interviews on this
subject, journalists may call Lisa Knepper, the Institute for Justice’s director
of communications, at (202) 955-1300 or in the evening/weekend at (703)
597-2523. For an online media kit, please visit
www.ij.org and click Online Media
Kits for Journalists.]
Television and radio reporters wishing to
cover Thursday’s oral argument must request written permission no later than
Monday, February 2. Media can download the request form from the Michigan Court
of Appeals website at
http://courtofappeals.mijud.net/resources/mediainfo.htm. IJ spokespersons
can help provide the case number and other details requested on the form.