The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Friedrichs v. CTA on Monday, January 11th. Rebecca’s attorney, Michael Carvin, faced the Solicitor General of California, the union attorney, and the Solicitor General from the Obama administration. Oral arguments lasted eighty minutes, with the time divided equally between the two sides. If the tenor of the questions is any indication, it appears that a majority of the justices seemed favorable to the argument put forth by Rebecca Friedrichs.
A majority of the justices focused their time and questions on the merits of the primary issue before the court: whether compelled union dues violate the first amendment. The other justices, however, spent a great deal of time discussing ways to avoid the merits of the primary issue. Several of the justices, for instance, suggested that even if Rebecca Friedrichs has the stronger legal argument, she should still lose her case because of the legal doctrine of stare decisis. That the Justices spent so much effort on this line of reasoning indicates they may have already conceded that Rebecca Friedrichs has the stronger arguments on the merits.
While union members protested on the steps of the supreme court with signs that echoed the union talking points and insisted that compelled agency fees are not political speech, the union attorneys inside the court spoke out of the other side of their mouth. Contrary to the talking points the unions have promoted through the internet and protests, they have always conceded in their legal briefs and before the court that agency fees and collective bargaining are political.
At an event following oral arguments, attorney Michael Carvin hesitated to make a prediction about the case, but suggested the unions were at a loss to square their position with established constitutional principles.
While oral arguments are not always indicative of the way the court will decide, the level of skepticism that the Justices expressed at the union arguments makes us optimistic that Friedrichs v. CTA will be a victory for the First Amendment and a victory of public school teachers.
A decision is expected by June.