March 7, 2019 — He asked the Supreme Court to acknowledge his First Amendment rights, and it did.
An average guy, provoked enough, can accomplish things that are above average.
Mark Janus is such a guy. Provoked by what he believed was a bald violation of his First Amendment rights, he took action to see them protected. And he prevailed. Big time, as an average guy might say.
His name, italicized, will live on now in legal textbooks and amicus curiae footnotes, will be cited at length in law-school seminars and oral arguments, will be uttered with contempt in union headquarters, with respect in conservative gatherings. And it will be classified under “landmark.” Maybe even give birth to a phrase, “Janus rights.”
Last June, in Mark Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, commonly known as Janus v. AFSCME, the United States Supreme Court ruled 5–4 that public-sector unions may not automatically enroll workers as members and collect fees from them. Janus was a loss for labor. A big loss. And it was a major — even surprising, and far-reaching — victory for conservatives and First Amendment champions.
Mark Janus describes himself as “just an average guy, a middle-class person who goes to work every day.” And work is where this saga of jurisprudence, of constitutional rights, of modern-day politics and union power, all begins. A lifelong resident of Springfield, Ill., Janus, a down-to-earth civic-minded citizen (he is an Eagle Scout), graduated in 1975 from Illinois College, a business-administration major whose career path meandered. He worked for his dad’s beauty-supply company and then at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs, where his duties centered on economic-development small-business loans.
Janus soon returned to the private sector, as an accountant for a printing company and then in his own spiral-binding business, which he eventually sold. Then followed an encore as a government employee.
And it was there, working as a child-support specialist for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, that the worm turned. Central to all that happened in this saga is this fact: Employee Janus was not a member of the office’s overseeing union, Local 2600 of AFSCME.
So Janus was surprised “when I got my first paycheck,” he tells National Review. It was unlike his first job with Illinois — “This time I saw a deduction for union dues.” It happened automatically. “During the normal intake process when I started working, no one in HR said anything about unions, about having to pay fees or dues. And I never joined the union.” He inquired of his colleagues: What gives? “I was told ‘Everyone had to pay in some manner’ and ‘It’s just mandatory.’ At the time I thought — that’s just the way it is. I have no choice.”
The absence of choice was the rule. The reason: In its Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision (1977), the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that teachers who objected to being forced by state law to pay fees to a union that engaged in political activities they opposed nonetheless had an obligation to pay, and as a condition of employment.