California unions narrowly avoided a devastating blow to their ability to force members to pay dues last year, when Justice Antonin Scalia died, leaving an appellate court ruling in place because of a 4-4 tie at the Supreme Court.
But now they fear their worst nightmares are about to come true, with Justice Neil Gorsuch joining the panel to rule on Janus v. AFSCME, an Illinois case that involves the same fight over free speech rights and collective bargaining.
In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (2016), the court deadlocked over the question of whether a teacher who disagreed with the political views expressed by her union could still be forced to pay dues to that union. The union countered that members are already allowed to opt out of dues that are used for explicitly political purposes. But the plaintiffs contended that ostensibly non-political spending was being spent on political causes.
In 2016, the Court was expected to rule 5-4 to overturn the precedent set by Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977), which “held that such compelled political speech does not violate the free-speech rights of Americans who work in such jobs,” Breitbart News’ Ken Klukowski wrote at the time. But Scalia’s death changed that — reminding all of “what is at stake in the 2016 presidential election,” since the next president would be able to fill his post.
Now, with Gorsuch on the bench, advocates for education reform are hopeful — as are conservatives, who are the frequent targets of teacher unions in their political campaigns. Unions, by contrast, are deeply distraught. The Sacramento Bee reports:
California labor leaders sound almost apocalyptic when they describe a looming Supreme Court case that many of them concede likely will cost them members and money.
“Everything is at stake,” says Yvonne Walker, president of Service Employees International Local 1000, state government’s largest union.
“It’s a blatant political attack,” says Eric Heins, the leader of the massive California Teachers Association.
“That’s a way that the corporations are trying to take our legs out from under us,” says Kim Cowart, a state registered nurse and SEIU union leader.
Meanwhile, the Bee notes, unions are lobbying for new state laws to help them keep their members under control.
On the other side of the argument, reformers hope that breaking the power of the teachers’ unions to compel dues would also open the door to pension reform, which the unions have long resisted.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.