In January of last year, we noted that the U.S. Supreme Court was poised to end compulsory union dues for California teachers and other public employees. Then in February of last year, Justice Antonin Scalia died. In March of last year, we blogged that the unions had breathed a big sigh of relief when the Supreme Court then split 4-4 in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, thus upholding the Ninth Circuit ruling denying the constitutional challenge to compulsory dues. We say again, what a difference an empty chair makes. Now, that chair is again occupied, and last week the Court announced that it will again take up the compulsory dues issue in Janus v. AFSCME, a case where the Seventh Circuit rejected an employee challenge to forced union dues.
The Illinois plaintiffs in Janus argue that their First Amendment rights are violated when employers and unions take their money in the form of compulsory dues to fund political causes with which the employees may disagree. Twenty states (including California) have allowed that practice for the past forty years since the Supreme Court decided Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. Unions currently spend almost a billion dollars per year on their political agenda. The consequences are thus huge as a five-Justice majority is now poised to sidestep or overrule Abood on the theory that almost everything a public sector union does is political, and that public employees cannot be forced to put their money where their mouths aren’t. A challenge to private sector compulsory dues in states that do not have right-to-work laws (e.g, California) cannot be far behind.