RALEIGH — A judge temporarily blocked a new law that stops dues for a powerful education advocacy group from automatically being removed from teachers’ paychecks in a legal intervention that comes just after the Republican-led Legislature overrode the governor’s veto of the bill.
Judge Paul Gessner issued the temporary restraining order Monday just hours after North Carolina Association of Educators sued in Wake County court to stop the law’s enactment. The state’s largest teacher lobbying group argues the veto was overridden in an unconstitutional after-midnight meeting last week that injured the association and the law should be voided.
GOP leaders are unhappy with the association’s political and lobbying activities in recent years. Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis said last year a House vote on the bill was payback for the group sending mailers to districts where Democrats supported the GOP-written budget.
The change could reduce NCAE membership and its ability to raise money for election and legislative issues in 2012 and beyond.
The lawsuit also calls into question a practice of GOP legislative leaders to hold vetoed bills for months — apparently to wait for a favorable makeup of the chamber to complete an override. House Republicans had kept the dues check-off bill for more than five months after the Senate voted successfully to override.
The override came right on the heels of another session called by Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue to consider another vetoed bill involving racial bias and the death penalty. That bill did not get overridden.
Gessner signed the order after an afternoon court hearing. State attorneys didn’t appear before the judge, which is common in temporary restraining order hearings. Gessner agreed that the association had demonstrated it would suffer irreparable harm had the law been enacted. The withholding of dues likely would have stopped with January paychecks, NCAE President Sheri Strickland said after the hearing.
The lawsuit said the NCAE would suffer a “crippling decimation” of funds should the payroll deduction prohibition become law and gravely affect the group’s ability to represent members’ interests.
“We look forward to moving forward using the legal process so that our members can continue to have their right to have their dues deducted,” Strickland said.
House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, a key proponent of the law, said he hadn’t reviewed the lawsuit late Monday but still believes the measure will stand.
“I’m completely confident that the law will be upheld as constitutional,” Stam said in an interview. A hearing for a preliminary injunction to block the enactment while the complaint is tried in court will be scheduled in the next 10 days, said Bob Orr, a Raleigh attorney representing the association. State attorneys will participate in that hearing.
The litigation shows the 60,000-member association is willing to play political hardball over the issue just as Republicans did in pushing the override through early last Thursday morning as the makeup of the House became fluid with Republican arrivals and Democratic departures.
NCAE has been a harsh critic of Republican legislative leaders for the current state budget that required $459 million in public school education cuts. The association spent money to counter Republicans in the 2010 elections and is a close ally of Perdue, who is running for re-election this year.
“Expressing your views about the importance of education and standing up for our schools is the right thing to do and should not be punished,” Perdue said in a statement late Monday.
Orr, a former state Supreme Court justice and 2008 Republican primary gubernatorial candidate, said Gessner acted on the basis that the General Assembly’s meeting at 12:45 a.m. last Thursday violated the state constitution because lawmakers only were allowed to meet to discuss Perdue’s veto of a repeal of the Racial Justice Act.
The law also was a retaliatory action against association members while allowing government to keep removing dues from members of other groups, the lawsuit argues. Republicans have said the law would apply to some other education groups, not just NCAE.
The litigation filed by Orr contends the Legislature’s time essentially had expired on overriding Perdue’s veto of the dues bill when it adjourned in late July. At least three other vetoed bills appear to fit a similar time requirement.
The lawsuit questions whether “the General Assembly can, shall we say, have an open run on the override of vetoes, of whether they have to act in a reasonable quick” manner, Orr said.
The litigation is the latest challenge to laws approved by the Republican-led Legislature in 2011, including those on abortion restrictions, blocking Planned Parenthood from receiving funds and new redistricting maps.