The Ohio Supreme Court challenged the ban on “targeted picketing” of officials in a ruling on Tuesday.
The court was unanimous decision that a board of education violated the rights of picketers by shutting down public protests, calling the language of Ohio’s Revised Code “encouraging” or staging a protest at the home or workplace public servants’ labor “a form of suppression of expressive activity that is irreconcilable with the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment.
The law arose in connection with a labor dispute by the Portage County Association of Developmental Disabilities Educators.
A 2017 collective bargaining reached an impasse and the group filed a notice of intent to strike, leading to picketing on seven dates in October.
Members of the educators’ association picketed the homes of PCDD board members and a private workplace.
Board members have filed unfair labor practice charges with the state Employment Relations Board, under a revised code that prohibits employee organizations or individuals in organizations from encouraging the picketing a private residence or an employer “in connection with a labor dispute”.
The labor relations board found that the members of the educators’ association had broken the law, even going so far as to issue a cease and desist order to protest further, and the association appealed the decision in Portage County Court of Common Pleas. The association claimed that the council’s decision violated the picketer’s First Amendment rights.
When an appeals court overturned the council’s decision and found the picketing law unconstitutional, the SERC and PCDD appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Judge Michael P. Donnelly wrote the ruling, saying the court was not “insensitive to the burdens that these board members and other officials must sometimes endure in the performance of their official duties.”
“We do not question the sanctity of the home as a personal place of refuge or the importance of an employee’s workplace,” Donnelly wrote.
But the status of board members as public officials does not “isolate them from the robust marketplace of ideas,” the court ruled, and the First Amendment “makes that marketplace possible.”
The court also said there was no evidence that the private employer on whose property the education association members were picketing “was threatened, coerced or prevented from engaging in business with the council”.
With respect to private residences, the court referred to local ordinances and state criminal codes “to preserve law and order in cases of disruptive behavior that disturbs residential privacy and is justified without reference to content of expression”.
“On each occasion, the picketing (in Portage County) took place entirely on public streets or sidewalks,” the court wrote. “There is no evidence that picketing involved obstructive or disruptive behavior.”
The protests described in the court case contrast with protests the state has seen at the homes of other local public officials. At the height of the pandemic, Dr. Amy Acton, a public but unelected representative, experienced protests at her home that included anti-vaccine activists, men wearing Proud-Boys clothing and anti-Semitic signs. A police presence observed the demonstrations.
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