The Supreme Court Wednesday dealt a major blow to organized labor that also will weaken support for Democratic political candidates, freeing government workers from mandatory “fees” when they opt out of union membership.
“This is catastrophic for Democrats,” opined Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano regarding the 5-4 decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.
The court ruled states are not allowed to force government workers to pay the equivalent of union dues, called “fees,” if they opt not to join a union.
The decision overturned a 40-year-old precedent.
“This landmark case restores the First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of association to more than five million public school teachers, first responders and other government workers across the country,” said Liberty Justice Center in a statement.
Mark Janus, a child support specialist for state government in Illinois, brought the case.
“I’m thrilled that the Supreme Court has restored not only my First Amendment rights, but the rights of millions of other government workers across the country,” he said. “So many of us have been forced to pay for political speech and policy positions with which we disagree, just so we can keep our jobs. This is a victory for all of us. The right to say ‘no’ to a union is just as important as the right to say ‘yes.’ Finally our rights have been restored.”
Even though many union workers vote Republican, their leaders are heavily Democratic, and union coffers regularly fund Democrats running for office.
Janus filed his case in Illinois in 2015 with free legal representation from the Illinois-based Liberty Justice Center and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
Jacob Huebert, Janus’ lawyer, called it “the biggest victory for workers’ rights in a generation.”
“The First Amendment guarantees each of us, as individuals, the right to choose which groups we will and won’t support with our money,” he said. “Today the Supreme Court recognized that no one should be forced to give up that right just to be allowed to work in government. The court recognized that unions have the right to organize and to advocate for the policies they believe in – but they don’t have a special right to force people to pay for their lobbying. They have to play by the same rules as everyone else.”
Illinois is among 22 states that has required many government workers to pay union fees as a condition of employment. Janus has worked for state government in Illinois as a child support specialist since 2007. Over the past decade, he was forced to pay thousands of dollars in union fees to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) – even though he opposes many of the union’s positions on public policy issues, believed he would be better off without the union’s so-called representation and was never asked if he wanted to be covered by a union contract. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled in his favor, Janus will not be required to pay the union fees, the organization explained.
“Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats,” said President Trump.
The majority opinion said the state’s “extraction of agency fees from nonconsenting public-sector employees violates the First Amendment.”
The previous precedent,” the court said, “erred in concluding otherwise.”
Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority: “Fundamental free speech rights are at stake. Abood [the previous precedent] was poorly reasoned. It has led to practical problems and abuse. It is inconsistent with other First Amendment cases and has been undermined by more recent decisions.”
Janus had objected to many of the public policy positions that the union was pursuing. Yet some $535 was taken out of his pay annually and given to the union to fund its activities.
Alito pointed out the court has held “time and again that freedom of speech ‘includes both the right to speak freely and the right to refrain from speaking at all.'”
He continued: “Compelling individuals to mouth support for views they find objectionably violates that cardinal constitutional command, and in most contexts, any such effort would be universally condemned. Suppose, for example, that the state of Illinois required all residents to sign a document expressing support for a particular set of positions on controversial public issues – say, the platform of one of the major political parties. No one, we trust, would seriously argue that the First Amendment permits this.
“Perhaps because such compulsion so plainly violates the Constitution, most of our free speech cases have involved restrictions on what can be said, rather than laws compelling speech. But measures compelling speech are at least as threatening.”
He quoted Thomas Jefferson: “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhor[s] is sinful and tyrannical.”
The majority said, “Because the compelled subsidization of private speech seriously impinges on First Amendment rights, it cannot be casually allowed.”
The minority on the court lamented, however, that “public employee unions will lose a secure source of financial support.”
The dissent argued that since unions’ negotiations are supposed to benefit all workers, the “fees” would “distribute fairly the cost” of union operations.
“The various tasks involved in representing employees cost money; if the union doesn’t have enough, it can’t be an effective employee representative and bargaining partner,” they argued, noting states will need to rework their “statutory schemes.”