KC Johnson

The Trump Era

Janus v. AFSCME, 2018 (excerpts)

opinion of the Court (Justice Alito)

Petitioner Mark Janus is employed by the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services as a child support specialist. Id., at 10a. The employees in his unit are among the 35,000 public employees in Illinois who are represented by respondent American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31 (Union). Ibid. Janus refused to join the Union because he opposes “many of the public policy positions that [it] advocates,” including the positions it takes in collective bargaining. Id., at 10a, 18a. Janus believes that the Union’s “behavior in bargaining does not appreciate the current fiscal crises in Illinois and does not reflect his best interests or the interests of Illinois citizens.” Id., at 18a. Therefore, if he had the choice, he “would not pay any fees or otherwise subsidize [the Union].” Ibid. Under his unit’s collective-bargaining agreement, however, he was required to pay an agency fee of $44.58 per month, id., at 14a—which would amount to about $535 per year.

Janus’s concern about Illinois’ current financial situation is shared by the Governor of the State, and it was the Governor who initially challenged the statute authorizing the imposition of agency fees. The Governor commenced an action in federal court, asking that the law be declared unconstitutional, and the Illinois attorney general (a respondent here) intervened to defend the law. App. 41. Janus and two other state employees also moved to intervene—but on the Governor’s side. Id., at 60….

Compelling individuals to mouth support for views they find objectionable violates that cardinal constitutional command, and in most contexts, any such effort would be universally condemned. Suppose, for example, that the State of Illinois required all residents to sign a document expressing support for a particular set of positions on controversial public issues—say, the platform of one of the major political parties. No one, we trust, would seriously argue that the First Amendment permits this.

Perhaps because such compulsion so plainly violates the Constitution, most of our free speech cases have involved restrictions on what can be said, rather than laws compelling speech. But measures compelling speech are at least as threatening.

Free speech serves many ends. It is essential to our democratic form of government, see, e.g.Garrison v. Louisiana, 379 U. S. 64, 74–75 (1964), and it furthers the search for truth, see, e.g.Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U. S. 88, 95 (1940). Whenever the Federal Government or a State prevents individuals from saying what they think on important matters or compels them to voice ideas with which they disagree, it undermines these ends.

When speech is compelled, however, additional damage is done. In that situation, individuals are coerced into betraying their convictions. Forcing free and independent individuals to endorse ideas they find objectionable is always demeaning, and for this reason, one of our landmark free speech cases said that a law commanding “involuntary affirmation” of objected-to beliefs would require “even more immediate and urgent grounds” than a law demanding silence. Barnettesupra, at 633; see also Rileysupra, at 796–797 (rejecting “deferential test” for compelled speech claims)…

In addition to affecting how public money is spent, union speech in collective bargaining addresses many other important matters. As the examples offered by respondents’ own amici show, unions express views on a wide range of subjects—education, child welfare, healthcare, and minority rights, to name a few. See, e.g., Brief for American Federation of Teachers as Amicus Curiae 15–27; Brief for Child Protective Service Workers et al. as Amici Curiae 5–13; Brief for Human Rights Campaign et al. as Amici Curiae 10–17; Brief for National Women’s Law Center et al. as Amici Curiae 14–30. What unions have to say on these matters in the context of collective bargaining is of great public importance.

Take the example of education, which was the focus of briefing and argument in Friedrichs. The public importance of subsidized union speech is especially apparent in this field, since educators make up by far the largest category of state and local government employees, and education is typically the largest component of state and local government expenditures.[15]

Speech in this area also touches on fundamental questions of education policy. Should teacher pay be based on seniority, the better to retain experienced teachers? Or should schools adopt merit-pay systems to encourage teachers to get the best results out of their students?[16] Should districts transfer more experienced teachers to the lower performing schools that may have the greatest need for their skills, or should those teachers be allowed to stay where they have put down roots?[17] Should teachers be given tenure protection and, if so, under what conditions? On what grounds and pursuant to what procedures should teachers be subject to discipline or dismissal? How should teacher performance and student progress be measured—by standardized tests or other means?

Unions can also speak out in collective bargaining on controversial subjects such as climate change,[18] the Confederacy,[19] sexual orientation and gender identity,[20] evolution,[21] and minority religions.[22] These are sensitive political topics, and they are undoubtedly matters of profound “ ‘value and concern to the public.’ ” Snyder v. Phelps, 562 U. S. 443, 453 (2011). We have often recognized that such speech “ ‘occupies the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values’ ” and merits “ ‘special protection.’ ” Id., at 452…

For these reasons, States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees. Under Illinois law, if a public-sector collective-bargaining agreement includes an agency-fee provision and the union certifies to the employer the amount of the fee, that amount is automatically deducted from the nonmember’s wages. §315/6(e). No form of employee consent is required.

This procedure violates the First Amendment and cannot continue. Neither an agency fee nor any other payment to the union may be deducted from a nonmember’s wages, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.

dissent (Justice Kagan)

For over 40 years, Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Ed., 431 U. S. 209 (1977), struck a stable balance between public employees’ First Amendment rights and government entities’ interests in running their workforces as they thought proper. Under that decision, a government entity could require public employees to pay a fair share of the cost that a union incurs when negotiating on their behalf over terms of employment. But no part of that fair-share payment could go to any of the union’s political or ideological activities.

That holding fit comfortably with this Court’s general framework for evaluating claims that a condition of public employment violates the First Amendment. The Court’s decisions have long made plain that government entities have substantial latitude to regulate their employees’ speech—especially about terms of employment—in the interest of operating their workplaces effectively. Abood allowed governments to do just that. While protecting public employees’ expression about non-workplace matters, the decision enabled a government to advance important managerial interests—by ensuring the presence of an exclusive employee representative to bargain with. Far from an “anomaly,” ante, at 7, the Abood regime was a paradigmatic example of how the government can regulate speech in its capacity as an employer.

Not any longer. Today, the Court succeeds in its 6-year campaign to reverse Abood. See Friedrichs v. California Teachers Assn., 578 U. S. ___ (2016) (per curiam); Harris v. Quinn, 573 U. S. ___ (2014); Knox v. Service Employees, 567 U. S. 298 (2012). Its decision will have large-scale consequences. Public employee unions will lose a secure source of financial support. State and local governments that thought fair-share provisions furthered their interests will need to find new ways of managing their workforces. Across the country, the relationships of public employees and employers will alter in both predictable and wholly unexpected ways.

Rarely if ever has the Court overruled a decision—let alone one of this import—with so little regard for the usual principles of stare decisis. There are no special justifications for reversing Abood. It has proved workable. No recent developments have eroded its underpinnings. And it is deeply entrenched, in both the law and the real world. More than 20 States have statutory schemes built on the decision. Those laws underpin thousands of ongoing contracts involving millions of employees. Reliance interests do not come any stronger than those surrounding Abood. And likewise, judicial disruption does not get any greater than what the Court does today. I respectfully dissent….

There is no sugarcoating today’s opinion. The majority overthrows a decision entrenched in this Nation’s law—and in its economic life—for over 40 years. As a result, it prevents the American people, acting through their state and local officials, from making important choices about workplace governance. And it does so by weaponizing the First Amendment, in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy.

Departures from stare decisis are supposed to be “exceptional action[s]” demanding “special justification,” Rumsey, 467 U. S., at 212—but the majority offers nothing like that here. In contrast to the vigor of its attack on Abood, the majority’s discussion of stare decisis barely limps to the finish line. And no wonder: The standard factors this Court considers when deciding to overrule a decision all cut one way. Abood’s legal underpinnings have not eroded over time: Abood is now, as it was when issued, consistent with this Court’s First Amendment law. Abood provided a workable standard for courts to apply. And Abood has generated enormous reliance interests. The majority has overruled Abood for no exceptional or special reason, but because it never liked the decision. It has overruled Abood because it wanted to.

Because, that is, it wanted to pick the winning side in what should be—and until now, has been—an energetic policy debate. Some state and local governments (and the constituents they serve) think that stable unions promote healthy labor relations and thereby improve the provision of services to the public. Other state and local governments (and their constituents) think, to the contrary, that strong unions impose excessive costs and impair those services. Americans have debated the pros and cons for many decades—in large part, by deciding whether to use fair-share arrangements. Yesterday, 22 States were on one side, 28 on the other (ignoring a couple of in-betweeners). Today, that healthy—that democratic—debate ends. The majority has adjudged who should prevail. Indeed, the majority is bursting with pride over what it has accomplished: Now those 22 States, it crows, “can follow the model of the federal government and 28 other States.” Ante, at 47, n. 27.

And maybe most alarming, the majority has chosen the winners by turning the First Amendment into a sword, and using it against workaday economic and regulatory policy. Today is not the first time the Court has wielded the First Amendment in such an aggressive way. See, e.g., National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerraante, p. ___ (invalidating a law requiring medical and counseling facilities to provide relevant information to users); Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc., 564 U. S. 552 (2011) (striking down a law that restricted pharmacies from selling various data). And it threatens not to be the last. Speech is everywhere—a part of every human activity (employment, health care, securities trading, you name it). For that reason, almost all economic and regulatory policy affects or touches speech. So the majority’s road runs long. And at every stop are black-robed rulers overriding citizens’ choices. The First Amendment was meant for better things. It was meant not to undermine but to protect democratic governance—including over the role of public-sector unions.



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