With Trump tweets, British elections, and new terrorist attacks filling most of the cable news minutes and hours this week, it could easily go unnoticed that a child support specialist named Mark Janus has formally filed the request that his case, Janus v. AFSCME, be heard by the Supreme Court later this year.
It takes only four of the nine justices to agree that a case will be heard (that is to grant certiorari), and this case is highly likely to be taken up given the court's recent history with the issue. The case, brought by attorneys from the Liberty Justice Center and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, challenges the forced collection of union dues and fees from government employees on First Amendment grounds. If successful, it would overturn a critical 1977 precedent that has sustained and enhanced the political power of government unions in the time since.
The high court failed to resolve this issue last year when another case touching on the same issues, Friedrichs v. California Teachers' Association, came before it. Shorthanded after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the high court deadlocked 4-4, upholding the old precedent that governments can force their employees to contribute money to labor unions under penalty of losing their jobs.
If that precedent (Abood) is overturned, it might cause not only immediate losses to the ranks of government employee unions, but also potentially break the back of public-sector union political political clout, which relies heavily on the involuntary payments and the involvement of members who might quit their union if it wouldn't cost them their job.
Take Wisconsin as an example. Among other changes caused by Act 10 in 2011, the state ended forced withholding of dues and agency fees. The ranks of public sector union members in the state has declined rapidly ever since, from 187,000 that year to 91,000 in 2016, with five-digit losses every year, according to government data compiled by UnionStats.com.
Michigan also ended compulsory dues withholding for many public employees when it became a right-to-work state in 2013 (some still work under grandfathered contracts that haven't yet expired). Public sector union membership there fell from 256,000 in 2013 to 234,000 in 2016.
This trend hasn't held true in every state (Indiana is a noteworthy exception), but the unions would just as soon not test it out. The addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the court may well tip the balance away from them at a time when they have already been losing ground in the form of new right-to-work states and other adverse court rulings limiting, for example, their access to disabled patients' benefit checks.