Divided Court Issues Tie Decision

Today the Supreme Court issued a tied decision in Friedrichs v. California Teacher’s Association. The 4-4 decision leaves the laws in place in 25 states and the District of Columbia that allows unions to compel non-members to pay “agency fees” to support the union’s collective bargaining work.

Since the death of Justice Scalia, this outcome has been expected. However, as CIR President Terry Pell explained, “We believe this case is too significant to let a split decision stand and we will file a petition for re-hearing with the Supreme Court.”

In Friedrichs, the Court will have a compelling reason to grant a rehearing because the case presents a question of fundamental rights, and by law, a tie vote by the Supreme Court does not settle a legal question; it simply leaves the lower court opinion in place and reserves the legal question for a future case. In this case, the lower court (the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals) was forced to rule against Friedrichs and the other teachers because they are challenging a previous Supreme Court decision and only the Supreme Court can overturn its own opinions.

As today’s decision proves, only a full panel of the Supreme Court can authoritatively settle the issues presented in Friedrichs.

Fortunately, there are many examples in the last several decades of the Court re-hearing closely contested cases involving fundamental individual rights once a new Justice joined the bench.

Read CIR’s full press release on today’s decision here.