People looking for results out of Washington, D.C., have been frustrated for some time now. And those who want Washington to do something to expand freedom have really been out of luck.
But hope is coming! Finally, in 2018, union-represented public employees may be given greater freedom over their own pocketbook and no longer be subjected to paying forced dues to a liberal behemoth. But like anything in D.C., no victory is automatic.
When the Supreme Court returns this week for the new term, the court's newest jurist, Justice Neil Gorsuch, is set to tip the balance on several high-profile cases on issues ranging from immigration to gun rights to redistricting. But while no Supreme Court decision should be treated lightly, one of the most consequential cases of this new term was just added to the docket with Gorsuch expected to be the key vote on the matter.
The upcoming Janus v. AFSCME case deals with many of the same issues brought before the court in 2016 by Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, as both cases challenged the constitutionality of state laws requiring public employees to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment.
Most Americans instinctively recognize the injustice of forcing individuals to subsidize, through their mandatory union dues, political activity with which they disagree. Yet such is the legal reality for millions of public employees around the country.
So here is the state of play. Following the untimely death of Justice Antonin Scalia last year, the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, leaving in place the 9th Circuit's decision in favor of unions. Since the Supreme Court's 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education upheld the constitutionality of forcing public employees to pay dues, only another Supreme Court decision can end such requirements in non-right-to-work states.
Should the Supreme Court rule in favor of the plaintiff this time around, then all public employees would finally have the right to make their own decisions about whether to join a union and pay dues.
My organization, The Freedom Foundation, filed an amicus brief urging the court to hear Janus v. AFSCME. Its decision to do so is an encouraging sign that the court will vindicate workers' First Amendment rights.
But we know better than anyone that, even once workers are given this freedom, the unions fight tooth and nail to keep workers paying dues and in the dark about their rights.
Here in Washington state, union executives have gone to extraordinary lengths to deny us the ability to let certain workers covered by a previous Supreme Court decision, Harris v. Quinn, know that they don't have to join the union cabal. They've spent millions suing to prevent disclosure of their worker lists so outside voices can't communicate to workers about their options. They've tarnished dissenters within their ranks, and run personal attack campaigns targeting the homes of Freedom Foundation leaders for simply trying to ensure workers understand their rights.
So while Gorsuch can deliver the win for workers they deserve, it will be up to all of us to uphold, preserve, and fight for it so public employees may actually experience the freedom to which they are entitled.
Then we will finally have something out of D.C. worth celebrating.
Maxford Nelsen is director of labor policy at The Freedom Foundation in Olympia, Wash.
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