A three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an order granting the plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Affirmance on the Pleadings. That means Rebecca Friedrichs and her co-plaintiffs are now free to petition the Supreme Court for review of their challenge to compulsory union dues. From the beginning, Friedrichs and her co-plaintiffs have argued that the only court that has the authority to grant them the relief they request is the Supreme Court. Accordingly, they asked both the district court and court of appeals to decide the case on the basis of the pleadings quickly — without trial or oral argument — so the case can move promptly the Supreme Court. Today’s order means that the district court judgment in favor of the defendant unions is affirmed as a matter of law on the basis of existing Supreme Court precedent. The plaintiffs will now appeal that judgment to the Supreme Court, where they will ask the Court to overrule its precedent that allows states to mandate union dues.
IR is representing ten California teachers and the Christian Educators Association International in a landmark effort to re-establish the right of individual teachers and other public employees to decide for themselves whether to join and support a union. The suit claims state “agency shop” laws, which require public employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment, violate well-settled principles of freedom of speech and association. While many teachers support the union, others do not and the state cannot constitutionally compel an individual to join and financially support an organization with which he or she disagrees.
Collective Bargaining is inherently political
Typically, California teacher union dues cost upwards of a $1,000 per year. Although California law allows teachers to opt-out of the thirty percent or so of their dues devoted to overt political lobbying, they may not opt out of the sixty to seventy percent of their dues the union determines is devoted to collective bargaining. This type of forced-payment scheme assumes that collective bargaining is “non-political.” But bargaining with local governments is inherently political. Whether the union is negotiating for specific class sizes or pressing a local government to spend tax dollars on teacher pensions rather than on building parks, the union’s negotiating positions embody political choices that are often controversial.
Political opt-out burdensome
To opt out of the thirty percent of their dues that even the union concedes is used for overtly political activities, teachers must must file for a refund each year according to a precise procedure that effectively discourages its use. As a result, many teachers contribute hundreds of dollars in dues each year to support political positions in a variety of areas having nothing to do with education and with which many of them disagree.
For example, the CTA spent over $211 million in political expenditures from 2000 through 2009. CTA’s largest single expenditure (over $26 million) was made to successfully oppose Proposition 38 on the November, 2000 ballot, which would have enacted a school-voucher system in California (and thereby increased the potential employment pool for teachers). CTA also spent over $50 million to oppose three ballot initiatives in 2005, including Proposition 74, which sought to make changes in the probationary period for California school teachers; Proposition 75, which sought to prohibit the use of public employee agency fees for political contributions without individual employees’ prior consent; and Proposition 76, concerning state spending and minimum school-funding requirements.
Case speeds to Supreme Court
In early December 2013, Federal District Court Judge Josephine Staton granted CIR’s request to render a decision on the pleadings in favor of the defendant unions without discovery or a trial. Judge Staton agreed with CIR that the lower courts do not have the authority to overturn existing Supreme Court precedent. As a result, the lower courts can neither side with the teachers nor the unions but must send the case on to the Supreme Court — the only forum that can vindicate the First Amendment rights of California teachers.
Subsequent to Judge Staton’s ruling, CIR appealed the case to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and promptly moved for expedited consideration. CIR waived oral argument, conceded that binding precedent precluded the claims of its clients, and asked for a decision on the briefs.