Worker Advocate: It is time for the Court to recognize that the First Amendment protects public employees from being forced to subsidize union speech
Washington, DC (November 29, 2017) – Today, attorneys for Illinois public servant Mark Janus filed the first merits brief in the Supreme Court case, Janus v. AFSCME. The brief asks the High Court to recognize that the First Amendment protects public workers from being required to make payments to union officials as a condition of working for their own government.
Plaintiff Mark Janus is an Illinois child support specialist who filed the challenge with free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center. Janus is currently required to pay union fees to AFSCME union officials even though he opposes many of the positions union officials advocate using his money and feels he would be better off without the union’s so-called representation.
In the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education case, a divided High Court ruled that public employees could not be required to subsidize many political and ideological union activities; however the court left in place forced fees used to subsidize union monopoly bargaining with the government. In a series of cases in the last five years the Supreme Court has begun to question the theory underpinning Abood.
In the National Right to Work Foundation-won Knox v. SEIU (2012) and Harris v. Quinn (2014) cases, the Supreme Court made clear that mandatory union payments invoke the highest level of First Amendment protection. In Janus, Mark Janus asks the Supreme Court to apply this heightened scrutiny to all mandatory union payments required of government employees.
If the High Court rules in Janus’ favor, over 5 million public school teachers, firefighters, police officers and other government employees who currently are forced to pay money to union officials just to keep their jobs would be free to decide individually whether or not to make voluntary union payments. Oral arguments in the case are now expected to occur in late February.
“Forced union fees remain the largest regime of compelled speech in the nation,” said Mark Mix, President of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. “Forty years ago in Abood, the Supreme Court erroneously left forced fees in place citing the artificial distinction between union officials’ ideological activities and union bargaining with the government that inherently seeks to alter public policy.”
“Now that the Janus case is being briefed for argument at the High Court, we are hopeful that in the coming months the Supreme Court will correct this anomaly in First Amendment jurisprudence by striking down all mandatory union payments for public workers,” continued Mix. “Americans shouldn’t forfeit their First Amendment protections just to work for their own government.”
“Government workers like Mark Janus shouldn’t have to pay for union politics just to keep their jobs,” said Jacob Huebert, director of litigation at the Liberty Justice Center. “The First Amendment gives everyone the right to choose which political groups they will and won’t support with their money.”