High Court Won’t Rehear Union Dues Case

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By Lawrence E. Dubé

June 28 — The U.S. Supreme Court declined to rehear a challenge by California teachers to a ruling that a union's “fair share” agreement with the state didn't violate their constitutional rights ( Friedrichs v. Cal. Teachers Ass'n, U.S., No. 14-915, rehearing denied 6/28/16 ).

Following Justice Antonin Scalia's death in February, the justices March 29 deadlocked 4-4 on the challenge by Rebecca Friedrichs and other teachers (136 S. Ct. 1083, 2016 BL 96297, 205 LRRM 3594 (U.S. 2016)).

The equally divided court June 28 issued a one-sentence judgment affirming a lower court ruling that the First Amendment permits public employers to enter agency-shop agreements.

The teachers urged the court to hold the case until a ninth justice was confirmed and seated, but the court denied the petition for rehearing without comment.

Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, a nonprofit public interest law firm that represented the teachers, said in a June 28 statement that the group was disappointed in the court's action.

However, Pell said, the court's action was “not a decision on the merits,” and the law firm “will look for opportunities to challenge compulsory union dues in other cases.”

In an announcement of the Supreme Court’s action on its website, the California Teachers Association said “The lower court ruling stands and CTA prevails - case closed.”

The union said the high court’s affirmance of the Ninth Circuit ruling on fair share agreements “upholds a mandate that has been in effect for more than 40 years and affords America's workers, including educators across California, the opportunity to come together to improve their working and student learning conditions.”

First Amendment Case Ended With 4-4 Vote

The teachers filed a lawsuit in 2013 challenging California's agency shop arrangement, which allows bargaining contract provisions requiring nonmembers to pay agency fees for union representation, contending it violates their rights to free speech and association under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California held Supreme Court precedent foreclosed the teachers' argument, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit summarily affirmed (2014 BL 453683 (9th Cir. 2014)).

The teachers filed for Supreme Court review, and after a January oral argument, some lawyers predicted that Scalia would join Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito in a 5-4 vote to overrule Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209, 95 LRRM 2411 (1977).

In Abood, the court held that agency-shop arrangements in the public sector pass muster under the First Amendment if nonmembers' agency fees go solely toward the costs of bargaining, contract administration and grievance adjustment.

However, Scalia's death on Feb. 13 left the justices equally divided, and the court affirmed the judgment of the Ninth Circuit.

Teachers Fail in Rehearing Bid

In their petition for rehearing, the teachers argued the Supreme Court has granted rehearing in cases where it appeared that a majority might emerge from equally divided justices, including cases in which a new justice is seated on the court.

The teachers said granting rehearing after tie votes in order to await the arrival of a new justice “makes sense.”

However, the court denied the petition.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lawrence E. Dubé in Washington at ldube@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

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