U.S. Supreme Court

SCOTUS appears to side with teachers who oppose required union fees; are some bar fees at risk?

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A Supreme Court majority on Monday appeared to side with California public school teachers who oppose mandatory fees for union collective bargaining.

Some had viewed Justice Antonin Scalia as the best hope for a win for public unions, but during oral arguments he appeared to side with teachers who claim a First Amendment violation, report the New York Times and the Washington Post. Other publications with coverage include the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the National Law Journal (sub. req.) and SCOTUSblog.

The teachers are asking the court to overturn the 1977 decision Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which says public employees may be required to pay mandatory fees to unions for collective bargaining, but not for political or ideological activity.

The teachers argue there is no meaningful First Amendment difference between advancing an ideological agenda through collective bargaining and advancing an ideological agenda through lobbying or campaign spending.

A lawyer for the teachers, Michal Carvin, said during arguments that a decision for his clients would not affect unions representing private workers, because their employers are not subject to the First Amendment. He also said the teachers were seeking prospective relief, rather than a refund of fees already paid.

The National Law Journal coverage included an assertion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of four liberals who appeared to side with the union, about some bar fees. She said that overruling Abood would jeopardize fees collected from lawyers who are members of mandatory bars and activity fees collected from students at public universities. Carvin replied that those fees are not at risk.

Justice Elena Kagan challenged Carvin on that assertion. “Those cases start with Abood,” she said.

The case is Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

Related articles:

ABA Journal: “Nonunion teachers seek relief from paying fees for collective bargaining”

ABAJournal.com: “Chemerinsky: New term’s most important cases—so far”

ABAJournal.com: “SCOTUS to consider First Amendment rights of public workers forced to pay for collective bargaining”

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