The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, March/April 2018 edition.
June decision expected in First Amendment challenge to mandatory dues for government workers
WASHINGTON, DC – On Monday, February 26, veteran National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorney William Messenger argued the blockbuster Janus v. AFSCME case before the United States Supreme Court. Messenger, representing Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services employee Mark Janus, asked the High Court to recognize that the First Amendment protects public workers from being required to make payments to union officials as a condition of working for their own government.
Mr. Janus is an Illinois child support specialist who filed the challenge after being required to pay union fees to AFSCME union officials even though he opposes many of the positions union officials nadvocate using his money. Janus feels he would be better off without the union’s so-called representation and that compelled speech through forced union dues violates his First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and association.
In the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education case, a divided High Court ruled that public employees could not be required to subsidize many political and ideological union activities. However the Court left in place forced fees used to subsidize union monopoly bargaining with the government. In a series of Foundation-litigated cases over the last five years, the Supreme Court has questioned the theory underpinning Abood.
In the National Right to Work Foundation-won Knox v. SEIU (2012) and Harris v. Quinn (2014) cases, the Supreme Court made clear that mandatory union payments invoke the highest level of First Amendment protection. Now staff attorneys from the National Right to Work Foundation, who represent Janus along with attorneys from the Illinois-based Liberty Justice Center, have asked the Supreme Court to apply the First Amendment precedent of heightened scrutiny to all mandatory union payments required of government employees.
Many Supreme Court observers consider Janus v. AFSCME to be one of the biggest, if not the most important case of the term, especially considering that more than 5 million public school teachers, firefighters, police officers and other government employees are currently forced to pay money to union officials. One Washington Post headline about the case declared: “The Supreme Court is About to Hear the Biggest Labor Case of the Century.”
“Mandatory union fees are the most widespread regime of compelled speech in the nation. It is long past time that public employees’ First Amendment rights be protected from being forced to subsidize union officials’ speech,” said Foundation Vice President and Legal Director Ray LaJeunesse, Jr.
“We are hopeful that by the end of the Supreme Court’s term it will issue a decision ensuring that union payments for public employees like Mr. Janus are strictly voluntary, at which point the challenge will be enforcing those protections for millions of government workers,” LaJeunesse added.