The Supremes Get One Right

Resoundingly so.  Janus v AFCME Council 31 is a case originating in Illinois concerning a public service union’s ability to collect a per centage of ordinary union dues—agency fees—from non-union members who work alongside the union’s bargaining unit in for a government agency.  A 40-year-old Supreme Court precedent, Abood v Detroit Board of Education, upheld this ability.

The Court’s opinion (a 5-4 majority) is summarized in the syllabus:

The State’s extraction of agency fees from nonconsenting public-sector employees violates the First Amendment. Abood erred in concluding otherwise, and stare decisis cannot support it. Abood is therefore overruled.

What Alito actually wrote is even more direct, and he wrote it at the outset of his opinion.

Under Illinois law, public employees are forced to subsidize a union, even if they choose not to join and strongly object to the positions the union takes in collective bargaining and related activities. We conclude that this arrangement violates the free speech rights of nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.

We upheld a similar law in Abood v Detroit Bd. of Ed….and we recognize the importance of following precedent unless there are strong reasons for not doing so. But there are very strong reasons in this case. Fundamental free speech rights are at stake. Abood was poorly reasoned.  …  Abood is therefore overruled.

Alito concluded his opinion even more forcefully.

This procedure [collecting an “agency fee”] violates the First Amendment and cannot continue. Neither an agency fee nor any other payment to the union may be deducted from a nonmember’s wages, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay. By agreeing to pay, nonmembers are waiving their First Amendment rights, and such a waiver cannot be presumed.

The sad part of this resounding victory for individual liberty is that 5-4 vote; it should have been unanimous.  However, the liberal wing of the Court remained buried in its ideology that Government must be the solution.  Here, those four Justices held that an individual’s fundamental rights of free speech and free association must be held subordinate to the union’s government-created right to collect dues and “agency fees” from everyone whom it purports to represent in an employment unit.

The free speech problem arises when those agency fees are collected as a condition of employment by a government agency.  It isn’t possible for an inherently political entity to not engage in political speech, and so it isn’t possible for any negotiation—including over employment parameters—with that entity to not be inherently political in nature and so consisting of political speech.  Thus, forcing payment of an “agency fee” to the “representing” union is forced speech by the individual from whom the “agency fee” is collected.

The free association problem arises from the existence of any forced “agency fee” payment.  Such a mandate creates a forced association between the individual from whom the “agency fee” is collected and the union for and by which the money is collected.  This association occurs, tautologically, whether or not the individual might otherwise consent to, or actively seek, the association.  The forced nature of the association is maximally emphasized by the individual’s demonstrated objection to the association through his conscious decision to not join the union and further by his objection to paying the fee.

It’s unfortunate that the liberal wing does not see any of this.

The ruling can be seen here.

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