In another First in the Nation policy to come out of California, the L.A. City Council voted 14 to 0 to pass an ordinance requiring companies doing business with the city to disclose whether they or their workers have ties to the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who led the drive to single out the NRA, blamed the organization for being “a road block to gun safety reform.” Thwarted by the political process, O’Farrell decided to take it out on member workers instead. The L.A. City Council’s message to the carpenters, electricians, and mechanics who are contractors for the city: Your NRA membership or your job.
This open threat to blacklist those who don’t agree with the Council’s positions isn’t its first. Last year, the Council unanimously voted to require that city contractors disclose any involvement in the construction of Pres. Trump’s border security wall.
According to CBS News, the motion states, “For the sake of transparency, the city’s residents and stakeholders deserve to know how the city’s public funds are being spent, and whether taxpayer funds are being spent on contractors that have contractual or sponsorship ties with the NRA.”
The unstated follow up statement is this: If taxpayer dollars are being spent on companies who have NRA members, next time around, the city might think twice about awarding your company a contract. Inevitable, workers will be forced to choose between their livelihood or their NRA membership.
But God bless America, there’s a law against this: The First Amendment.
NRA attorneys have already said that they would file a lawsuit if the ordinance passed. Dean McGrath, adjunct professor of Constitutional Law at Georgetown University Law Center said that the ordinance will almost certainly be struck down by the courts as a violation of the First Amendment. In a statement for us, he practically argues the case:
The Ordinance makes clear that the City selected only persons with any association with the NRA because of the NRA’s political views and advocacy of those views. The City has no justifiable basis for its action; it simply names the NRA because the City does not like its views. The Supreme Court has made it clear that it would violate the fundamental protections of the First Amendment for any government (City, State or Federal) to impose burdens on an organization solely because of its political views and public advocacy. The Supreme Court has made this clear.
In NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson, 357 U.S. 449 (1957), the Supreme Court barred Alabama from requiring the NAACP to disclose its membership lists. The Court stated: It is beyond debate that freedom to engage in association for the advancement of beliefs and ideas is an inseparable aspect of . . . “liberty” . . . Of course, it is immaterial whether the beliefs sought to be advanced by association pertain to political, economic, religious, or cultural matters and state action which may have the effect of curtailing the freedom to associate is subject to the closest scrutiny.
McGrath also cited Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 310 U.S. 296 at 303 (1940):
If there is any fixed star in our constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, shall prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or action their faith therein.
McGrath continued: “Under the City Ordinance, contractors are adversely affected solely because of any association – direct or indirect – they may have with the NRA and its political views. The City has no rational, let alone fundamental interest, in chilling the contractors First Amendment rights of free speech, public advocacy, and association. The City’s stated interest is its disagreement with the NRA for its views. Such viewpoint discrimination against any organization (e.g., NAACP, ACLU, AFL-CIO) is prohibited.
“Public ‘blacklisting’ solely for political purposes should have died with the Alien and Sedition Act, Senator McCarthy and his ‘list’ of names, and the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Regretfully, the City’s Ordinance proves it has not,” said McGrath.
Thank you, Counselor.
Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute.