The West Virginia Supreme Court on Friday granted a motion to halt proceedings in what had been a nearly 3-year court case involving West Virginia’s right-to-work law.
The court approved a motion to stay a ruling handed down by Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey in February, according to a news release Friday from West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
On Feb. 27, Bailey declared that part of the the Workplace Freedom Act is unconstitutional because it allows workers to refuse to pay dues, fees or other charges to a union, which, nonetheless, must still represent those workers.
In her ruling, Bailey issued a 30-day stay, preventing her ruling from taking effect and giving parties time to file appeals if they so desired.
The Supreme Court’s ruling is an extension of that stay, preventing Bailey’s ruling from taking effect for an undetermined amount of time.
Morrisey said, if Bailey’s ruling had been left intact, it would have “jeopardized the state’s right-to-work law.”
“The Attorney General’s Office sought the stay and its motion speaks for itself,” attorney general spokesman Curtis Johnson said in the news release. “The office has no further comment at this time.”
Attorneys for the West Virginia AFL-CIO filed a response against Morrisey’s motion to stay the ruling.
“Although we were opposed, we were not surprised by the state Supreme Court’s decision to extend the stay of the circuit court order,” state union President Josh Sword said. “We look forward to the next step in this process in our quest to protect our property rights and our liberties under the state’s constitution.”
The court provided no opinion in its order, which was included in Morrisey’s news release.
Justice Tim Armstead, who was speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates when the right-to-work law was adopted, was disqualified from the case.
Bailey said the law, which is widely considered to be anti-union represents an unconstitutional taking of unions’ property because they’re required by federal law to represent workers at union worksites whether those workers are union members or not. That argument was advanced by unions when they first filed the lawsuit in the summer of 2016.
The right-to-work law was passed with solely Republican support in the Legislature in 2016. Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed the measure, but GOP legislators had enough votes to override his veto.
After the unions filed their lawsuit challenging the law, Bailey issued a temporary injunction stopping it from taking effect in August 2016. Her order finalizing the preliminary injunction was filed in February 2017 and, three days later, Morrisey’s office appealed her decision to the Supreme Court.
While that appeal was pending, West Virginia legislators passed a bill in the 2017 session addressing some of Bailey’s concerns about the law. Republican Gov. Jim Justice vetoed that bill, citing concerns about changing a law that was the subject of a current lawsuit, but legislators overrode his veto.
In September 2017, the Supreme Court, in a decision written by then-justice Menis Ketchum, overturned Bailey’s preliminary injunction and ordered her to hold a “final hearing on the matter. According to Bailey, all parties to the lawsuit then said they had no more arguments or evidence to present, and agreed there were no disputed issues of fact.