Democrat New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order limiting government employees’ access to public information has been challenged by the public interest law firm the Liberty Justice Center, which won the U.S. Supreme Court case, Janus v. AFSCME.
The center filed a lawsuit, Suhr v. New York State Department of Public Service, with the Supreme Court of the state of New York arguing Cuomo’s executive order “protects the special interests of public sector unions.”
Cuomo signed Executive Order 183 the day of the Janus ruling “to protect union members from harassment and intimidation, representing the first state action taken in response to the Supreme Court's Janus decision,” according to his office.
The executive order prohibits state entities from disclosing personal contact information for state employees “amid reports of individuals and organizations harassing union members or prospective union members.”
Citing the First Amendment, the Supreme Court held in Janus that government employees cannot be required to pay dues or fees to a public sector union as a condition of employment, and no money can be deducted by employers for public sector unions “unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.”
Mark Janus, represented by the Liberty Justice Center, was employed by the state of Illinois and required to pay union fees to AFSCME even though he didn't join and didn't support their causes. He has since filed a lawsuit seeking to collect the back dues he was required to pay.
“The Supreme Court was clear: Every American has the right to decide for himself which groups to support with his money,” Brian Kelsey, senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, said in a statement. “Americans cannot be forced to pay a government union just because they work in public service. The governor should not stand in their way.”
The lawsuit stems from the Liberty Justice Center’s attempt to receive information from the state in order to help make state employees aware of their rights.
In April 2019, Daniel Suhr, an associate senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, submitted a public information request to the New York Department of Civil Service to receive payroll information about public employees. The state supplied some, but not all, of the information requested citing Cuomo’s Executive Order 183, as the reason for not releasing all of the requested information.
“Every American should be able to freely exercise his constitutional rights,” Kelsey adds. “But to exercise those rights freely, he must know what those rights are. The State’s attempts to withhold information from government workers is a blatant campaign to stop them from exercising their First Amendment right not to pay a government union.”
Cumo’s attempts to circumvent Janus, critics note, is the opposite of Alaska Governor Michael Dunleavy’s recent actions to make Alaska’s statewide government fully compliant with the Janus ruling.