Last week the Michigan Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit in which the Michigan Education Association claimed the Mackinac Center, a free market think tank that has been at odds with the union on issues such as charter schools and education vouchers, had violated the privacy of MEA President Luigi Battaglieri by quoting him in a fund-raising letter. The court concluded that the letter "falls squarely within the protection of the First Amendment for discourse on matters of public interest."
At a press conference in September 2001, Battaglieri said of the Mackinac Center: "Quite frankly, I admire what they 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." After the Mackinac Center used part of the quote as evidence of its accomplishments in a message to donors, the MEA sued, arguing that the letter misleadingly implied that Battaglieri had endorsed the think tank. The appeals court rejected that claim. "It is highly unlikely," the judges noted, "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.'"
It's hard to understand why anyone at the MEA thought this lawsuit was a good idea. By trying unsuccessfully to use the legal system to punish one of its main critics, the union ends up looking thuggish and disrespectful of the First Amendment, while Battaglieri's praise of the Mackinac Center gets much more publicity than it otherwise would have. Does this sort of thing play well with teachers?