Sunday, June 21, 2009

No Right Of Access To School Teacher Mailboxes

In San Leandro Teachers' Ass'n v. Governing Board (here), the California Supreme Court unanimously held that a school district may constitutionally exclude from the district's internal mailbox system communications from a teachers union supporting specific candidates in a school board election. The union acknowledged that it had no right of access to the mailboxes under the First Amendment, in light of Perry Education Association v. Perry Local Educators Association, 460 U.S. 37 (1983), one of the United States Supreme Court's earliest "nonpublic forum" cases. However. it urged that a different result should follow under the California Constitution's free speech clause, Article I, Section 2.

The Court disagreed. The Court did not make clear whether the three-tiered approach to public forum cases adopted by the United States Supreme Court is part of California law. Nor did it expressly disavow the "basic incompatibility" test adopted in U.C. Nuclear Weapons Labs Conversion Project v. Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, 154 Cal.App.3d 1157 (1984). Instead, it simply held that "this prohibition on the use of government resources for political campaigning is a means of promoting an important government interest, i.e., maintaining the integrity of the electoral process by neutralizing any advantage that those with special access to government resources might possess."

As this quotation illustrates, the Court was obviously influenced by its prior decisions in
Stanson v. Mott, 17 Cal.3d 206 (1976), and Vargas v. City of Salinas, 46 Cal.4th 1 (2009), which at least in part preclude the use of public resources to influence political campaigns. Yet the court also held that the school district's regulation was not statutorily compelled. It will be interesting to see what happens if a school district permits such communications and the union's disfavored candidate goes to court. The Vargas decision is discussed here.)

No comments: