Washington, DC — The Michigan Court of
Appeals today threw out a lawsuit filed by the Michigan Education Association
that attempted to punish the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market
think tank that accurately quoted the union’s president in a fundraising
letter. The Court stated that discussion on matters of public interest, such as
school choice, should enjoy broad protection under the First Amendment and that
there was no evidence the Mackinac Center’s letter attempted to mislead its
readers into believing the union president endorsed the Center’s overall
On September 27, 2001, Michigan
Education Association (MEA) President Luigi 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 the Center has recognized its effectiveness.
decision is a huge victory for free speech in Michigan and one that will
reverberate nationwide," said Clark Neily, an Institute for Justice senior
attorney, which is litigating the case pro bono on behalf of the Mackinac Center.
"The decision is also a vindication of the Mackinac Center’s claim that it had
every right to inform potential supporters that the president of the Michigan
Education Association told a room full of reporters that he admires what the
Center has done. The MEA’s attempt to enlist the court system in its effort to
suppress and censor that news has been firmly rebuffed."
In its seven-page
opinion, the Court stated, "[W]e conclude that the [Freedom Fund letter] falls
squarely within the protection of the First Amendment for discourse on matters
of public interest." The Court went on to write, "It is highly unlikely that
the recipients of the letter would conclude that Battaglieri was suddenly
supportive of Mackinac’s positions notwithstanding the longstanding, well-known
and sharp differences of opinion between Mackinac and the MEA in the past.
Further, the article itself belies such an interpretation by noting that
Battaglieri’s ‘union is generally at odds with the Mackinac Center.’" The Court
concluded, "To avoid summary disposition, plaintiffs had to come forward with
sufficient evidence to prove actual malice ‘by clear and convincing
evidence...[which is] a ‘heavy burden’ far in excess of the preponderance
sufficient for most civil litigation.’ The record reveals no such evidence
"We hope the MEA now
stops using teachers’ dues to fight a losing battle against the First
Amendment," said Joseph Lehman, the Mackinac Center’s executive vice president.
"The court has affirmed our right to quote the MEA’s president when he says he
admires what the Mackinac Center has done. There is a lesson in this. If you
hold a news conference, prepare to be quoted."
This was a case being watched by both education
reformers and teachers unions nationwide.
"Across the nation, conservative
and libertarian think tanks like the Mackinac Center are very effective at
implementing educational reforms opposed by the teachers unions," said Chip
Mellor, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice. "This case
was an attempt by the teachers unions to intimidate not only the Mackinac
Center, but also its opponents elsewhere. That is what makes this victory
Neily concluded, "Unlike the
Michigan Education Association, the Mackinac Center depends on voluntary
contributions for its financial support. This decision makes clear that the
Mackinac Center has a perfect right to quote the MEA and its leaders in
fundraising materials when they go out of their way to acknowledge the
effectiveness of the Center’s work, as Mr. Battaglieri did at a press conference
two years ago."
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 John Kramer, the Institute for Justice’s Vice
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(703) 527-8730. For an online media kit, please visit www.ij.org and click Online Media
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More information on the MEA's failed lawsuit against the Mackinac Center may be found at https://www.mackinac.org/4356