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NYT: Supreme Court Will Hear Case on Mandatory Fees to Unions

The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to hear a case that could deal a crushing blow to organized labor.

It was one of 11 cases the justices added to the court’s docket from the roughly 2,000 petitions seeking review that had piled up during the court’s summer break.

In the labor case, the court will consider whether public-sector unions may require workers who are not members to help pay for collective bargaining. If the court’s answer is no, unions would probably lose a substantial source of revenue.

The question was before the justices last year in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, and they  when the case was argued in January 2016. But the death of Justice Antonin Scalia the next month resulted in a 4-to-4 deadlock.

That may have given the unions only a brief reprieve. Justice Scalia’s replacement, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, has voted consistently with the court’s more conservative members and is likely to supply a fifth vote against the unions.

A ruling allowing workers to refuse to pay the fees would be the culmination of a decades-long campaign by conservative groups aimed at weakening unions that represent public employees.

The new case concerns Mark Janus, who works for the state government in Illinois and is represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. He sued the union, saying he does not agree with its positions and should not be forced to pay fees to support its work.

An Illinois law requires government workers who choose not to join a union to “pay their proportionate share of the costs of the collective bargaining process, contract administration and pursuing matters affecting wages, hours and other conditions of employment.” The Supreme Court has said that such laws are constitutional.

In a 1977 decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the court made a distinction between two kinds of compelled payments. It said workers need not pay for the political activities of unions, like campaign spending, as that would violate their First Amendment rights.

But it is constitutional, the court added, to require nonmembers to help pay for the union’s collective bargaining efforts to prevent freeloading and to ensure “labor peace.”

The challengers in the new case, Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, No. 16-1466, asked the court to overrule the Abood decision. All compulsory fees, they argued, violate the First Amendment because the subjects of labor negotiations between unions and the government are all matters of public concern.

Unions reject the First Amendment arguments, saying that collective bargaining is different from political activity. They said the plaintiffs were seeking to reap the benefits of such bargaining without paying their fair share of the cost.

Union leaders reacted to the court’s decision to hear the case with dismay bordering on alarm. “This case is yet another example of corporate interests using their power and influence to launch a political attack on working people and rig the rules of the economy in their own favor,” Lee Saunders, the president of the union in the case, said in a statement.

Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which represents Mr. Janus, said he was pleased the court had agreed to step in.

”We are now one step closer,” he said in a statement, “to freeing over five million public sector teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other employees from the injustice of being forced to subsidize a union as a condition of working for their own government.”

The Supreme Court also agreed to hear a pair of cases about searches of vehicles in unusual circumstances. In one, Collins v. Virginia, No. 16-1027, the police entered the driveway of a suspect’s house without permission, inspected a parked motorcycle covered by a tarp and learned that it was stolen.

Based on that evidence, they arrested Ryan Collins, who was later convicted of receiving stolen property. The Virginia Supreme Court said the search, which took place on private property and ordinarily would have required a warrant, was proper under “the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.”

The exception is based on the “ready mobility” of vehicles. The state Supreme Court ruled that the exception applies even when a vehicle is stationary and on private property. “Regardless of whether it was ‘immediately mobile’ at the precise moment of the search,” the court said, “the motorcycle and its rider nonetheless posed a significant flight risk.”

In dissent, Justice William C. Mims said the exception applies to a search “of a vehicle, not for a vehicle.”

In urging the Supreme Court to hear the case, lawyers for Mr. Collins saidthe state court had stretched the automobile exception beyond recognition. “A search of a vehicle pulled over on the side of a public highway is constitutionally different from a search of a vehicle parked alongside a house,” they wrote.

Lawyers for the state responded that the search was proper because “despite being under a tarp, the motorcycle was readily mobile, parked in a driveway with easy access to the street.”

The second case involving a vehicle search the justices agreed to hear concerned Terrence Byrd, who was driving a rental car with the renter’s permission but was not listed as an authorized driver on the rental agreement when he was stopped for a traffic violation in Pennsylvania. A search of the car uncovered drugs.

In rejecting Mr. Byrd’s appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, acknowledged that federal appeals courts have differed about “whether the sole occupant of a rental vehicle has a Fourth Amendment expectation of privacy when that occupant is not named in the rental agreement.” The Third Circuit’s own precedents, the court said, “determined such a person has no expectation of privacy and therefore no standing to challenge a search of the vehicle.”

The Supreme Court is now poised to resolve that dispute in the case, Byrd v. United States, No. 16-1371.