Category Archives: Courts

Will the Court Consider the Facts in Janus?

Source: Andrew Strom, On Labor blog, February 28, 2018 

Mark Janus’s lawyers are desperate to have the Court decide Janus v. AFSCME without considering any facts.  Janus is an Illinois state employee, who is represented by AFSCME Council 31.  Like all other employees in his bargaining unit, he is required to pay fair share fees to the union to cover the costs of providing representation.  Janus wants to Court to rule that these fees are unconstitutional without even considering how AFSCME spends these fees.  Janus also thinks that somehow the Court can decide that his refusal to fund union speech on workplace issues is protected by the First Amendment without overturning a series of cases holding that the grievances of public employees are not a form of speech protected by the First Amendment.  In addition, Janus thinks that merely by saying so, the Court can decide that states have a compelling interest in requiring lawyers to pay bar dues to mandatory bar associations, but no similar compelling interest in requiring public employees to pay fair share fees.  Janus’s lawyers realize that the more the Court considers actual facts, the harder it is for them to win their case, so their approach has been to insist that the case can be decided without any factual record.  But, the oral argument made clear that if the Court is not prepared to simply reaffirm its forty-year old precedent in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the only responsible move is to remand the case to develop a factual record…..

Related:
Coverage After the Janus Oral Argument
Source: Maddy Joseph, On Labor blog, February 28, 2018

The Supreme Court heard oral argument on Monday in Janus.  Analyses report that, as expected, there were pointed questions for AFSCME and Illinois by Justices Alito and Kennedy; the four liberal justices took every opportunity to highlight the potential effects of overruling Abood on collective bargaining and the ability of governments to manage their workforces.  Justice Gorsuch was silent.  There is a summary on SCOTUSblog, plus another analysis there.  NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and the LA Times also have solid summaries.  At the Atlantic, Garrett Epps highlights how little hard evidence there is in Janus–with no trial, there is not a developed record; and neither Janus nor the U.S. filled in those facts at argument.

The Times had a nihilistic editorial: assuming that the Court would overrule Abood, the editorial put Janus in political context.  It began with Merrick Garland and ended, “Whatever the justices decide in Mr. Janus’s case, the drama that preceded it is another reminder of the importance of every Supreme Court appointment.”…..

Argument analysis: Gorsuch stays mum on union fees

Source: Amy Howe, SCOTUSblog, February 26, 2018

The Supreme Court heard oral argument today in Janus v. American Federation of State, Municipal, and County Employees, a challenge by an Illinois child-support specialist to the fees that he is required to pay to the union that represents him, even though he does not belong to any union. Although this is the first trip to the Supreme Court for Mark Janus, the employee, it was the third time in four years that the justices have taken the bench to consider the issue presented by Janus’ case. After roughly an hour of sometimes testy debate in the courtroom, the outcome almost certainly hinges on the vote of the court’s newest justice, Neil Gorsuch – who did not tip his hand, opting instead to remain silent…..

Unions are confronted with an existential threat

Source: The Economist, February 22, 2018

Mark Janus could be making history this year. On February 26th the social worker from Illinois will be sitting with his two lawyers in the hallowed setting of the Supreme Court as the justices hear one hour of oral arguments in Janus v American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which asks whether public employees like himself, who choose not to join their designated union, may still be charged a compulsory “agency fee” to support collective bargaining. Mr Janus argues that the fee violates his First Amendment right to freedom of speech, because it forces him to subsidise an organisation whose bargaining position he rejects.

The court’s ruling in the case could determine the future of the labour movement…..

Janus and fair share fees: The organizations financing the attack on unions’ ability to represent workers

Source: Celine McNicholas, Zane Mokhiber, and Marni von Wilpert, Economic Policy Institute, February 21, 2018

From the press release:
In a new paper, EPI Labor Counsel Celine McNicholas and research assistant Zane Mokhiber report that the Supreme Court case Janus v AFSCME Council 31, along with previous cases challenging unions’ right to collect “fair share” fees from nonmembers, have been financed by a small group of foundations with ties to the largest and most powerful corporate lobbies. Analyzing Internal Revenue Service documents, the authors find that several of the foundations supporting anti-union litigants share the same donors—including the Sarah Scaife Foundation, The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation, and the Dunn’s Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking.

Working people who choose not to join their workplace’s union, but are still covered by a collective bargaining agreement, do not pay union dues. Instead, they pay “fair share” fees to cover the basic costs that the union incurs representing them. If the court finds in favor of the plaintiffs in Janus, unions representing public-sector workers could be prohibited from collecting these fees. The authors explain that if this happens, unions will be forced to operate with fewer and fewer resources. This will lead to reduced power—at the bargaining table and in the political process….

Will the Supreme Court deal a blow to trade unions?

Source: S. M., The Economist, Democracy in America blog, February 1, 2018

The court will consider whether unions can require non-member workers to help pay for collective bargaining.

OF ALL the blockbuster cases at the Supreme Court this year, Janus v American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is expected to hold the fewest surprises. Janus, which is due to be argued on February 26th, asks whether public employees who choose not to join their designated union may nevertheless be charged “agency fees” to support collective bargaining. Since 1977, when Abood v City of Detroit Board of Education was decided, it has been acceptable to require non-members to subsidise contract negotiations over their salary, benefits and working conditions, but a no-no to make them pay toward a union’s lobbying or political organising. This compromise was teetering on the edge in 2016 when Justice Antonin Scalia died while a case raising the same question, Friedrichs v California Teachers Association, was pending. Bereft of a fifth vote to seal Abood’s demise, the justices split 4-to-4 in Friedrichs and put the 40-year precedent back on life support. 

The man everyone expects to help pull the plug this time is Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s pick to replace Justice Scalia. Observers think Justice Gorsuch will join his four conservative brethren to say that workers should not be compelled to subsidise union negotiations for higher wages any more than they are required to pay for efforts to elect candidates or advocate for political causes. Undoing that distinction may be how Janus is resolved. But a brief from two libertarian legal scholars, alongside a brief submitted by a bevy of eminent economists, supplies a strong case for preserving what unions call “fair-share fees”…..

Related:
The Eminent Libertarians Who Might Save Public Sector Unions
Source: Rachel M. Cohen, The Intercept, February 2, 2018

The Supreme Court will hear arguments this month in a case challenging the constitutionality of so-called agency fees, payments that workers represented by a union must pay if they do not wish to be dues-paying members. Conservatives have been crusading against these fees for years on First Amendment grounds, and with Justice Neil Gorsuch on the bench, the labor movement’s odds seem grim.

But last month, unions got a surprising lifeline from an unlikely friend: Two prominent conservative legal scholars filed an amicus brief in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31 — the case before the court — urging the justices to uphold a 1977 decision that ruled the agency fees constitutional…..

33 prominent economists, 3 Nobel laureates to the Supreme Court: The anti-union position in Janus is simply wrong as a matter of basic economics
Source: Dan Jackson, American Constitution Society blog, January 25, 2018

Thirty-six distinguished economists and professors of law and economics including three Nobel laureates, two recipients of the American Economic Association’s prestigious John Bates Clark Medal, and two past presidents of the American Economic Association filed an amici curiae brief to assist the Supreme Court in understanding the free-rider problem at issue in Janus v. AFSCME….

Janus Should Lose, and the Justices Know It

Source: Andrew Strom, On Labor blog, January 31, 2018

Most of the coverage of Janus v. AFSCME, like this recent piece in USA Today, simply (and perhaps correctly) assumes that the five Republican appointees on the Supreme Court will use the case to overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the 1977 case upholding fair share fees for public sector workers.  But, now that the briefs have been filed, it is more clear than ever that those five Justices will have to put their thumbs heavily on the scale for the petitioner, Mark Janus, to prevail….

Public Sector Union Dues: Grappling with Fixed Stars and Stare Decisis (Part I)

Source: Victoria L. Killion, Congressional Research Service, CRS Legal Sidebar, LSB10042, December 4, 2017

The Supreme Court long ago described the First Amendment’s protection against compelled speech as a “fixed star in our constitutional constellation.” This Term, the Court may decide whether it has steered too far from that shining precept in the area of public employee union dues (or agency fees) in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31. Specifically, the Court will consider whether to overrule its 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, in which the Court announced the basic test for determining the validity of “agency shop” arrangements between a union and a government employer. Agency shop arrangements (sometimes called “fair share” provisions) require employees to pay a fee to the union designated to represent their bargaining unit even if the employees are not members of that union. The Abood Court held that these arrangements do not violate the First Amendment insofar as the union uses the fees for “collective bargaining activities” and not “ideological activities unrelated to collective bargaining.” In its October 2015 Term, the full Court heard oral argument on whether to overrule Abood, but ultimately divided four-to-four on this question following the death of Justice Scalia. Now that Justice Gorsuch has joined the bench, it remains to be seen whether a majority of the Court will reaffirm Abood or chart a new course. Part I of this two-part Sidebar provides general background on Abood and the case law leading up to Janus. Part II then discusses the perspectives Justice Gorsuch may bring to Janus and the potential implications of the decision for public sector collective bargaining and compulsory fees more broadly.

Public Sector Union Dues: Grappling with Fixed Stars and Stare Decisis (Part II)
Source: Victoria L. Killion, Congressional Research Service, CRS Legal Sidebar, LSB10041, December 4, 2017

As discussed in Part I of this two-part Sidebar, on March 29, 2016, an eight-member Supreme Court divided equally over whether to overrule its 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education and hold that public sector agency fees violate core First Amendment principles (the Court’s “fixed star”). Earlier this Term, the Court agreed to consider the question again in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31. Part II of this Sidebar begins with a brief summary of the parties’ arguments in Janus. It then highlights some key statements from the prior decisions of Justice Gorsuch, who is likely to be a critical voice in deciding whether to overturn Abood. The post concludes by exploring the potential implications of the Janus decision.

Order in the Court: How Firm Status and Reputation Shape the Outcomes of Employment Discrimination Suits

Source: Mary-Hunter McDonnell, Brayden G King, American Sociological Review, First Published December 21, 2017

From the abstract:
This article explores the mechanisms by which corporate prestige produces distorted legal outcomes. Drawing on social psychological theories of status, we suggest that prestige influences audience evaluations by shaping expectations, and that its effect will differ depending on whether a firm’s blameworthiness has been firmly established. We empirically analyze a unique database of more than 500 employment discrimination suits brought between 1998 and 2008. We find that prestige is associated with a decreased likelihood of being found liable (suggesting a halo effect in assessments of blameworthiness), but with more severe punishments among organizations that are found liable (suggesting a halo tax in administrations of punishment). Our analysis allows us to reconcile two ostensibly contradictory bodies of work on how organizational prestige affects audience evaluations by showing that prestige can be both a benefit and a liability, depending on whether an organization’s blameworthiness has been firmly established.

Reconciling Agency Fee Doctrine, the First Amendment, and the Modern Public Sector Union

Source: Courtlyn G. Roser-Jones, University of Wisconsin, Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1423, Last revised: September 14, 2017

From the abstract:
Few institutions have done more to improve working conditions for the middle class than labor unions. Their efforts, of course, cost money. To fund union activities, thousands of collective bargaining agreements across the nation have long included provisions permitting employers to require employees to pay “fair share,” or “agency” fees. In public unions “when the employer is the government” this arrangement creates tension between two important values: the First Amendment’s protection against compelled expression, and the collective benefits of worker representation. When confronted with this tension nearly forty years ago in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court struck an uneasy compromise, allowing public sector unions to recoup expenses for collective bargaining, but not for political activity. For decades, the decision has been a lightning rod, with some scholars calling for its reversal and others insisting on its preservation. In the meantime, the realities of modern public sector collective bargaining have changed, and First Amendment jurisprudence has evolved. The Supreme Court has recently signaled an interest in revisiting the issue, and test cases are making their way through the circuit courts. The time has come to reconsider Abood’s fragile compromise. This Article offers a new way forward within the First Amendment, one that honors the importance of both union activity and free expression. It proposes a way to reconcile these twin interests while also updating the doctrine to account for state legislative efforts, modern union realities, and First Amendment jurisprudential developments. Specifically, the Article argues that agency fees should be brought into step with current political contribution and campaign finance jurisprudence. Under this approach, some agency fees “but only those that are “closely drawn” to avoid unnecessary expressive infringement” will remain lawful. This approach, a middle ground, may not satisfy those who ardently oppose agency fees of any kind, or those who want Abood’s rule fully upheld. Still, it emerges as the best way forward through a difficult terrain: It avoids the false dichotomy between union and political activities, respects state legislatures that craft innovative collective bargaining statutes, and grounds public sector agency fees with other coherent aspects of First Amendment jurisprudence.

Is it Time for a New Free Speech Fight? Thoughts on Whether the First Amendment is a Friend or Foe of Labor

Source: Catherine Fisk, University of California, Berkeley – UC Irvine School of Law, Research Paper No. 2017-27, May 30, 2017

From the abstract:
The First Amendment, at least in the Supreme Court, hasn’t been much of a friend to labor unions. Among the few First Amendment rights that the Supreme Court has expanded in the labor union context recently is the right of union represented employee to refuse to pay fees to the union that represents them. Notwithstanding reasons to believe the contemporary First Amendment is more likely to be foe than friend of labor, history suggests the contrary. This essay explains why, making three arguments. First, social movements exist only where and when there is a robust commitment to free speech, and workers have real power only when labor has the capacity to be a social movement. Second, labor gained power as a social movement by engaging in protest and it started down the path to losing power when, in a series of cases decided between 1941 and 1960, the Supreme Court largely eliminated constitutional rights to picket and boycott. In the early 1960s, just when the Court finished creating the labor protest exception to the free speech clause, it extended First Amendment protection to civil rights and antiwar protest. Just as civil rights protesters drew on the sit down strike pioneered by labor in the 1930s, the Supreme Court found a First Amendment right to engage in civil rights protest by drawing on the cases that labor unions had won in 1939 and 1940. Third, the literature on the role of lawyers for social movements between the 1930s and now suggests the importance of law to how lawyers advise their clients. The only hope for the future of the labor movement is in cultivating a spirit of protest. Without the right to engage in robust protest, labor lawyers are in a difficult place when they advise their clients, and can do little to create the legal space to enable workers and social justice activists to launch a new round of free speech fights of the sort that brought the labor movement into power in the 1930s.