June 12, 2017
Last year, the Supreme Court seemed poised to deal a sharp blow to public sector unions. Then Justice Antonin Scalia died and the court deadlocked, granting the unions a reprieve.
It may not last long. Last week, a new case raising the same legal question arrived at the court, which is back at full strength with the appointment of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.
Unions again have reason to be nervous. Having already determined that the issue in the case warrants the court’s attention, the justices will probably agree to hear it.
And if Justice Gorsuch votes with the court’s more conservative members, which seems likely, millions of government workers in more than 20 states could be allowed to opt out of paying for collective bargaining, depriving unions of vast sums of money and making them less powerful and effective.
The case is the latest installment in a decades-long campaign by prominent conservative foundations to weaken unions that represent public employees. They contend that requiring government workers to pay fees for collective bargaining and related activities violates the First Amendment.
“For too long, millions of workers across the nation have been forced to pay dues and fees into union coffers as a condition of working for their own government,” said Mark A. Mix, the president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which helped bring the new case. “Requiring public servants to subsidize union officials’ speech is incompatible with the First Amendment.
The case concerns Mark Janus, who works for the state government in Illinois and is represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. He sued the union, saying he does not agree with its positions and should not be forced to pay so-called fair share fees to support its work.