Supreme Impact

Forbes Magazine examines the impact of the National Right to Work Foundation’s latest Supreme Court’s victory in Knox vs. SEIU:         

The Supreme Court today rejected, on First Amendment grounds, the idea that government-employee unions can charge non-members for political activities, even if they refund the money later.

The Court, in an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, held that employees can be required to pay dues in exchange for the benefits they get from collective bargaining, but can’t be forced to effectively lend money to the union for political activities they disagree with. It was a blow to the Service Employees International Union, which first tried to make the case moot by offering refunds, and then argued it would be too difficult to get the assent of non-members before launching a campaign to defeat legislation it considered a threat to its existence.

Seven of the judges joined in the final judgment in the case, although Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor said the majority went too far by ruling that government unions must use an “opt-in” system for collecting special assessments, instead of the traditional “opt-out” system where the onus is on non-members to tell the union they don’t want to pay.Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan dissented.

The ruling applies only to public-sector unions, presumably because they use the power of the government to compel all employees covered by a collective-bargaining agreement to pay dues.

The decision, coming a short time after Gov. Scott Walker survived a union-led recall campaign in Wisconsin, further undermines the power of public-sector unions.The Supreme Court has uneasily upheld laws that require government employees to pay the equivalent of union dues to cover the costs of collective bargaining and other benefits they receive, under the theory it helps maintain “labor peace” by discouraging free-riders. Alito, in this decision, called these “agency shop” policies an “anomaly” given the strong First Amendment right against compelled speech or membership in any organization.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation cheered the decision, saying “the Court closed a giant loophole.”