Contributor, The Volokh Conspiracy

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that some local Democratic Party leaders want to censure a primary candidate in the race for a statehouse seat because they don’t like a paper he wrote in law school.

Ben Lindy, who is running for the Ohio House 31st District seat, could be stripped of the benefits given to a candidate by the Hamilton County Democratic Party next week after the recent revelation that the Hyde Park resident wrote what some say was an anti-union paper while in law school at Yale University.

It’s not just any paper, though. Lindy’s research is being used in a U.S. Supreme Court case that could severely weaken collective bargaining rights for unions nationwide, including in Ohio. The Yale Law Journal published Lindy’s research in 2011 – making it public information – and he had nothing to do with the decision to use the information in the legal battle.

But top local union leaders called for Lindy’s party privileges to be revoked in a letter Tuesday to Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke. The party’s executive committee is scheduled to meet Thursday night at a union hall in Northside to decide whether Lindy will be able to continue to use the party’s voter files, mailing lists, postage discounts and other essential resources to running a campaign.

The article in question, “The Impact of Teacher Collective Bargaining Laws on Student Achievement: Evidence from a New Mexico Natural Experiment,” looked at the effect of teacher collective bargaining on educational outcomes. Here is the abstract:

This Note uses the 1999 sunset and 2003 reauthorization of New Mexico’s public employee collective bargaining law to estimate the causal effect of teacher collective bargaining on student achievement. This Note finds that mandatory teacher bargaining laws increase the performance of high-achieving students while simultaneously lowering the performance of poorly achieving students. After establishing this core empirical result, the Note explores its implications for current trends in American education policy and for normative arguments about the role of teachers’ unions in public schools.

The article has been cited numerous times by academic researchers and in an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, in which the Supreme Court is considering whether public sector “agency shop” arrangements violate the First Amendment. According to the story, Lindy no longer supports the position he took in the article. No matter. Union allies also object to Lindy’s association with Teach for America, but it appears his Yale Law Journal note is the reason some are considering censure.

Max Kennerly, who went to college with Lindy, is gobsmacked. He writes:

I believe in collective bargaining for public school teachers. So does Ben Lindy; he said it again in an email blast yesterday: “I support the rights of people to bargain collectively (including teachers).” Indeed, at the time it was published, the conservative New York Post criticized Ben’s article as being too favorable towards collective bargaining rights: “If collective bargaining ultimately delivers a superior product — higher-achieving students — Lindy’s study (cited warmly in The Boston Globe and elsewhere) may be a blockbuster with broad implications.”

The “controversy” here has nothing to do with political views. It has to do with whether we think politicians should make decisions by blindly agreeing with lobbyists or if politicians should make decisions by thinking about and understanding actual facts.

It would be nice if the real world always lined up with our preferences and our beliefs, but facts are stubborn things. If we as a society want to have a functioning educational system, we need to have the facts about that system, and we need to have political representatives who understand those facts and can use those facts to make the system better.

In a sane world, Ben’s article would be proof that he’s just the person for the job: he devoted himself to education for years and did exhaustive, painstaking work to see how education policy works in the real world. In the Hamilton County Democratic Party, however, it’s grounds for them to attempt to “censure” him by denying him the privileges given to every other candidate: access to the party’s voter files, mailing lists, and postage discounts.

It goes without saying that, if the Hamilton County Democratic Party censures Ben Lindy for publishing a thorough, methodologically-sound empirical research article in the Yale Law Journal, they will reveal themselves to be a bunch of anti-intellectuals who would rather curry favor to special interests than do their job in representing the people.

I have no idea whether Lindy would be a good or bad state representative, or whether I would agree with his positions on various policy issues. That’s not the point. The point is that local Democratic Party leaders are engaging in a vicious anti-democratic and anti-intellectual campaign. It’s not enough for them to oppose the primary candidate they don’t like. Instead they are proposing to kneecap a primary candidate because he wrote a well-regarded piece of academic scholarship that reached conclusions they don’t like. It’s shameful.

[Hat tip: Walter Olson]

[Note: I mistakenly wrote that Kennerly and Lindy were law school classmates. They were college classmates. The error has been fixed.]