Supreme Court Protects Public Employees from Forced Subsidization of Political Speech by Public Unions
The Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy released the summary below of an important First Amendment and public union case. The protection of non-union member speech in this ruling is a great clarification and victory; why should non-members have to pay one thin dime for the political speech of a union they do not choose to join? Furthermore, why would unions have the right to assess dues against a non-member—whether they ask permission or not?
This is an important defeat for public unions in their quest to use union dues for political speech but I would, as a matter of public policy, take it further. Public unions, in my opinion, should be outlawed for reasons I have outlined elsewhere. If they are permitted to exist, they ought to be limited to collecting and spending dues to cover the cost of representing members to negotiate over wages and working conditions. That they are permitted to use taxpayer funds to bargain against the taxpayer and to engage in political speech and action opposed by some of its members is an offense to representative democracy and a misuse of the First Amendment. That the State of Minnesota does the collecting for them from the paychecks of public employees is just as outrageous.
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This week the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Knox v. Service Employees International Union, reversing the Ninth Circuit by a vote of 7-2.
The case concerns a union special assessment for a "Political Fight Back Fund" that nonmember California state employees were required to pay as a condition of employment. The Court held 5-4, in a majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, that "when a public sector union imposes a special assessment or dues increase, the union must provide [a notice of the purpose of the assessment or increase] and may not exact any funds from nonmembers without their affirmative consent."
The Court also held that the union could not constitutionally charge the nonmembers for its expenses opposing ballot questions even if they "may be said to have an effect on present and future contracts between public-sector workers and their employers."
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, concurred in the judgment, but agreed only that "[w]hen a public-sector union imposes a special assessment intended to fund solely political lobbying efforts, the First Amendment requires that the union provide nonmembers an opportunity to opt out of the contribution of funds."
Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan dissented.
- Mr. Dominic Parella, Hogan Lovells LLP
- Mr. W. James Young, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation
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