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Federal judge strikes down Michigan law banning graduate student unions

On Wednesday, a judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan [official website] ruled that a law [text] banning the formation of graduate student unions was unconstitutional. Judge Mark Goldsmith found that the law violates the Michigan constitution's [text] "change of purpose" clause. The law was rushed through the statehouse [Detroit News report] having several unrelated amendments tacked on to it. This, Goldsmith ruled, was also a violation of the "title-object" clause, which prevents legislation from being passed when there are many disparate matters attached. The law prevented University of Michigan research assistants from unionizing. This prompted the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Michigan [advocacy website] to bring the suit. Pro-union groups hailed the decision as striking down a law that prevented the constitutional right to organize. Supporters of the anti-union law, however, argue that the law was necessary to prevent unionized researchers from taking advantage of universities.

Michigan has been controversial in it treatment of certain Right to Work [JURIST backgrounder] issues. In August a Michigan appeals court ruled [JURIST report] that the term "right to work" applied to state employees. That legislation was originally passed in December 2012. In January the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ALCUM) [advocacy website] and various labor organizations collectively filed similar lawsuits in state court against both the private and public sector laws, claiming that while the legislation was debated and passed, the public was prohibited from entering the Capitol through the public entrance by Michigan state police, effecting a "total denial of public access to the Capitol for over four hours" in contravention of the Michigan Open Meetings Act, the Michigan Constitution and the First Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder] of the US Constitution. Previously, the governor requested an advisory opinion [JURIST report] from the Michigan Supreme Court, following its September order [JURIST report] that a collective bargaining initiative appear in a constitutional referendum.

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