Federal Teacher Suit Aims to Stop Attack on First Amendment Rights
Washington, DC, January 26, 2015—Teachers fed up with paying dues to unions that do not represent their interests could soon be getting their day in court. Together with Jones Day’s Michael Carvin, the Center for Individual Rights (CIR) today petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States to hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a federal lawsuit which seeks to strike down compulsory union dues laws in 26 states where they exist. If successful, it would reverse several decades of Supreme Court precedent, and would force public-employee unions to compete for dues on the same terms as any other professional organization.
The plaintiffs, 10 California teachers and the Christian Educators Association International, filed the suit in 2013 challenging the constitutionality of the Golden State’s “agency shop” law, which violates the First Amendment by forcing public school teachers to pay annual fees to support powerful teachers’ unions extensively involved in political activity with which they fundamentally disagree. The lead defendants are the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the National Education Association (NEA), as well as 10 affiliated local teachers’ unions, and local school officials in California.
“The free speech rights of teachers are being violated every day by powerful and politically partisan unions who spend millions in dues to promote positions at odds with the deeply held political and educational beliefs of many teachers,” said Terry Pell, President, Center for Individual Rights, a non-profit public interest firm representing the Friedrichs plaintiffs. “This case is not about ending unions, but instead, restoring the basic constitutional rights of teachers and other public employees to decide for themselves whether to support the unions’ agenda,” Pell added.
Last November, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals effectively put the case on a fast track so as to allow the plaintiffs to petition the Supreme Court to review the case.
“A majority of Justices have already questioned the constitutionality of forced union dues and have signaled a desire to revisit the issue in a case such as this one. We are hopeful the High Court will take Friedrichs,” said Pell.
In 2012, the Supreme Court questioned the continued constitutionality of ‘agency shop’ laws in the Knox v. Employees Intl. Union decision. In that case, the Court ruled that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in California violated the First Amendment rights of its non-union members by forcing them to pay a 25 percent increase in union dues without their consent to help fight ballot initiatives in the State.
“When unions use our dues money to block sensible reform and protect teachers who clearly do not belong in the classroom, it’s time to say enough is enough,” said lead plaintiff and elementary school teacher Rebecca Friedrichs. “We are taking this fight to the Supreme Court on behalf of all the teachers in our country who feel belittled and bullied by their unions, which care more about self-preservation than what our children need — and deserve — from their schools.”
Generally, teacher’s dues, which average $1,000 annually, are split into two portions: the collective bargaining portion (65% of dues) and political activities (35% of dues). Opting out of political dues is possible, but purposely difficult and confusing, and those who do are often ostracized and intimidated.
CIR is hoping that if the Supreme Court takes the case, it will do so by the spring of this year. For more information on Friedrichs v. CTA, please visit: https://www.cir-usa.org/cases/friedrichs-v-california-teachers-association-et-al/.
About The Center for Individual Rights:
The Center for Individual Rights is a non-profit public interest firm that specializes in civil rights, free speech, and other cases affecting individual rights. For more information visit CIR’s web site at https://www.cir-usa.org.