In one of the first major Supreme Court cases since the death of Justice Scalia last month, the Supreme Court split 4-4 on Friedrichs vs California Teachers Association. This case could have decimated public sector unions across the country, and one of the latest examples of the continued Republican assault on organized labor. Justice Scalia would have almost certainly voted against the unions.
The case took issue with “fair share fees,” which required non-unionized teachers in California to pay a fee roughly equivalent to union dues, which would help to pay for the costs of fighting for benefits that impact all teachers, unionized or not, such as higher pay and better working conditions. The case was brought forward by the “Center for Individual Rights” (CIR), a conservative political organization that has consistently worked to advance reactionary policies such as the rollback of laws designed to ensure equal access to education for disadvantaged groups.
CIR argued that the fair share fees were a violation of free speech, keeping in line with the trend of the Roberts Supreme Court to interpret the 1st Amendment as pro-corporation and anti-worker whenever possible. A ruling against unions would have overturned 40 years of judicial precedent and have struck a lethal blow against public sector unions everywhere.
The good news is that the split on the Supreme Court upholds the decision of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which relied on judicial precedence to determine that routine union activities are not a violation of free speech. The bad news is that the split does not set a judicial precedent, meaning that the case will almost certainly come before the Supreme Court once a new judge is confirmed.
This case is also personal to me – I am originally from California, and both of my parents are teachers active within the CTA. I know firsthand that teachers have an extremely difficult job with very long hours, and it is very disheartening to see these conservative attacks on their union, which seeks to ensure good working conditions for all teachers, and to make sure they are properly compensated for the huge investment they put into their jobs.
This case, like so many others, underscores the importance of November’s elections. Republicans outrageously continue to obstruct President Obama’s ability to appoint a new justice, meaning that the next Supreme Court Justice could very well be decided by the next President. If someone like Donald Trump or Ted Cruz is elected, the prospects for unions look very bleak.