December 7, 2017

More briefs filed with SCOTUS in Illinois forced union dues case


Three more briefs were filed with the U.S. Supreme Court this week in support of an Illinois state worker's fight against being forced to pay dues to a public employee union.

The Buckeye Institute from Ohio and the Competitive Enterprise Institute based in Washington, D.C., filed the amicus briefs Wednesday in support of Mark Janus, a child care worker for the state of Illinois. On Tuesday, the state of Washington-based Freedom Foundation also filed briefs in support of the plaintiff.

Janus says his First Amendment rights are being violated by being forced to pay dues to the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31 in order to keep his job. Janus, who filed a lawsuit against AFSME, says he is not politically aligned with the organization.

The Buckeye Institute's filing argues that overturning a prior court's decision allowing forced union dues won't result in a significant decline in union membership or spending, as AFSCME maintains.

"I recently wrote in Forbes that 'Unions have played a significant role in America's workforce for well over a century.' But the interests of unions should never trump the constitutional rights of workers like Mr. Janus," Robert Alt, president and CEO of The Buckeye Institute, said in a statement. "Forcing Mr. Janus, or any worker for that matter, to pay for speech with which they disagree violates their First Amendment rights, which are some of the most important rights we hold as Americans."

In its brief, the Competitive Enterprise Institute also argued that forced union dues is a violation of a U.S. citizen's First Amendment rights.

"For too long, the government has forced workers to pay for controversial political activities by unions that they do not support and that have nothing to do with union representation," Trey Kovacs, a CEI labor policy expert, said in a statement. "The Supreme Court should provide choice over whether to pay for labor union representation for millions of teachers, firefighters, and other public employees. State and local public workers deserve the right to choose who speaks for them, a right their federal counterparts have long enjoyed."

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Janus vs. AFSCME in September. It follows a similar case out of California, Friedrichs vs. the California Teachers Association. Rebecca Friedrichs, a school teacher, also was forced to pay dues to a union she didn't want to be a part of. She also filed suit arguing her First Amendment rights were being violated, and her case also made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. But conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died before the issue was resolved. After Scalia's death, the court deadlocked 4-4.

Since then, President Donald Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch, also a conservative, replaced Scalia on the bench.

Lee Saunders, president of AFSCME national, has called the lawsuit a political attack against unions.

If the Supreme Court rules in Janus' favor, an estimated 5.5 million government workers in 22 states without right-to-work laws would be impacted.

The court has not yet announced a date for oral argument in the case, but it is expected to be early in 2018.

The Liberty Justice Center is representing Janus along with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.