Babbitt v. United Farm Workers Nat'l Union
Annotate this Case
442 U.S. 289 (1979)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Babbitt v. United Farm Workers Nat'l Union, 442 U.S. 289 (1979)
Babbitt v. United Farm Workers National Union
Argued February 21, 1979
Decided June 5, 1979
442 U.S. 289
Appellees (a farmworkers' union, a union agent, farmworkers, and a union supporter) brought suit in Federal District Court in Arizona seeking a declaration of the unconstitutionality of various provisions of Arizona's farm labor statute, as well as of the entire statute, and an injunction against its enforcement. A three-judge court ruled unconstitutional on various grounds the provisions (1) specifying procedures for the election of employee bargaining representatives; (2) limiting union publicity directed at consumers of agricultural products; (3) imposing a criminal penalty for violations of the statute; (4) excusing an agricultural employer from furnishing a union any materials, information, time, or facilities to enable it to communicate with the employer's employees (access provision); and (5) governing arbitration of labor disputes, construed by the court as mandating compulsory arbitration. Deeming these provisions inseparable from the remainder of the statute, the court went on to declare the whole statute unconstitutional, and enjoined its enforcement.
1. The challenges to the provisions regulating election procedures, consumer publicity, and criminal sanctions present a case or controversy, but the challenges to the access and arbitration provisions are not justiciable. Pp. 297-305.
(a) The fact that appellees have not invoked the election procedures provision in the past or expressed any intention to do so in the future, does not defeat the justiciability of their challenge in view of the nature of their claim that delays attending the statutory election scheme and the technical limitations on who may vote in unit elections severely curtail their freedom of association. To await appellees' participation in an election would not assist the resolution of the threshold question whether the election procedures are subject to scrutiny under the First Amendment at all, and, as this question is dispositive of appellees' challenge, there is no warrant for postponing consideration of the election procedures claim. Pp. 442 U. S. 299-301.
(b) With expect to appellees' claim that the consumer publicity provision (which, on its face, proscribes, as an unfair labor practice, dishonest, untruthful, and deceptive publicity) unconstitutionally penalizes inaccuracies inadvertently uttered, appellees have reason to fear prosecution for violation of the provision, where the State has not disavowed any intention of invoking the criminal penalty provision (which applies in terms to "[a]ny person . . . who violates any provision" of the statute) against unions that commit unfair labor practices. Accordingly, the positions of the parties are sufficiently adverse with respect to the consumer publicity provision to present a case or controversy. For the same reasons, a case or controversy is also presented by appellees' claim that such provision unduly restricts protected speech by limiting publicity to that directed at agricultural products of an employer with whom a union has a primary dispute. Pp. 442 U. S. 301-303.
(c) Where it is clear that appellees desire to engage in prohibited consumer publicity campaigns, their claim that the criminal penalty provision is unconstitutionally vague was properly entertained by the District Court, and may be raised in this appeal. If the provision were truly vague, appellees should not be expected to pursue their collective activities at their peril. P. 442 U. S. 303.
(d) Appellees' challenge to the access provision is not justiciable, where not only is it conjectural to anticipate that access will be denied, but, more importantly, appellees' claim that such provision violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments because it deprives the state agency responsible for enforcing the statute of any discretion to compel agricultural employers to furnish the enumerated items depends upon the attributes of the situs involved. An opinion on the constitutionality of the provision at this time would be patently advisory, and adjudication of the challenge must wait until appellees can assert an interest in seeking access to particular facilities, as well as a palpable basis for believing that access will be refused. Pp. 442 U. S. 303-304.
(e) Similarly, any ruling on the allegedly compulsory arbitration provision would be wholly advisory where the record discloses that there is no real and concrete dispute as to the application of the provision, appellees themselves acknowledging that employers may elect responses to an arguably unlawful strike other than seeking an injunction and agreeing to arbitrate, and appellees never having contested the constitutionality of the provision. Pp. 442 U. S. 304-305.
2. The District Court properly considered the constitutionality of the election procedures provision even though a prior construction of the provision by the Arizona state courts was lacking, but the court should
have abstained from adjudicating the challenges to the consumer publicity and criminal penalty provisions until material unresolved questions of state law were determined by the Arizona courts. Pp. 442 U. S. 305-312.
(a) A state court construction of the election procedures provision would not obviate the need for decision of the constitutional issue or materially alter the question to be decided, as the resolution of the question whether such procedures are affected with a First Amendment interest at all is dispositive of appellees' challenge. P. 442 U. S. 306.
(b) The criminal penalty provision might be construed broadly as applying to all provisions of the statute affirmatively proscribing or commanding courses of conduct, or narrowly as applying only to certain provisions susceptible of being "violated," but, in either case, the provision is reasonably susceptible of constructions that might undercut or modify appellees' vagueness attack or otherwise significantly alter the constitutional questions requiring resolution. Pp. 442 U. S. 307-308.
(c) In view of the fact that the consumer publicity provision is patently ambiguous and subject to varying interpretations which would substantially affect the constitutional question presented, the District Court erred in entertaining all aspects of appellees' challenge to such provision without the benefit of a construction thereof by the Arizona courts. Pp. 442 U. S. 308-312.
3. The District Court erred in invalidating the election procedures provision. Arizona was not constitutionally obliged to provide procedures pursuant to which agricultural employees, through a chosen representative, might compel their employers to negotiate, and that it has undertaken to do so in an assertedly niggardly fashion, presents, as a general matter, no First Amendment problems. Moreover, the statute does not preclude voluntary recognition of a union by an agricultural employer. Pp. 312-314.
449 F.Supp. 449, reversed and remanded.
WHITE, J., delivered the opinion for the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 442 U. S. 314.