Supreme Court: Stop the First Amendment Violations!

Posted by Olivia Grady on Monday, October 2nd, 2017 at 4:46 pm - Permalink

The Supreme Court takes up the Janus case on state employees and agency fees

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari in Janus v. AFSCME. This case will decide whether state employees who choose not to join a union can still be forced to pay agency fees to that union. Agency fees are the purported costs that the union determines are for collective bargaining purposes and not for political uses.

The case follows Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a 2016 Supreme Court case involving a California public school teacher, Ms. Rebecca Friedrichs, who argued that agency fees violated her First Amendment rights. While the Supreme Court was deciding that case, Justice Antonin Scalia unexpectedly passed away. His death left the Court with four conservative Justices and four liberal Justices to decide this issue. They deadlocked, and the result was that on March 29, 2016, the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was upheld. The Ninth Circuit’s opinion dismissed the case due to an earlier Supreme Court case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which had decided that agency fees were valid in 1977.

However, since the Friedrichs decision was issued, President Donald Trump has appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. With a full Court, this issue can now be decided.

Interestingly, the case, Janus v. AFSCME, began when Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner (R) issued an Executive Order on February 9, 2015, forbidding agreements between the union and the government forcing non-union member workers to pay agency fees. He also sued the unions that were collecting the fees in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and requested the Court issue a declaratory judgment that the agency fees violated the First Amendment and that his Executive Order was legal. The Court ruled that Governor Rauner could not sue because he wasn’t forced to pay these fees.

However, Mark Janus, a child support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare Services, and two other government employees had filed a motion to intervene as plaintiffs on March 23, 2015, and that motion had been granted. The case therefore continued with just the three state employees who were forced to pay the union.

After agency fees were upheld in Friedrichs though, the District Judge dismissed the Janus case, citing the recent Friedrichs case. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit also dismissed the case on March 21, 2017, citing Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.

Why is this case so important?

The Director of Litigation at the Liberty Justice Center and one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, Jacob Huebert, explained:

“We are pleased the Supreme Court has agreed to take up this case and revisit a 40-year-old precedent that has allowed governments to violate the First Amendment rights of millions of workers. People shouldn’t be forced to surrender their First Amendment right to decide for themselves what organizations they support just because they decide to work for the state, their local government or a public school.”

Americans for Tax Reform agrees with Huebert and urges the Supreme Court to restore the First Amendment rights of these government workers.