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Split Supreme Court affirms Ninth Circuit decision on opt-out policy for union fees

[JURIST] An equally divided US Supreme Court [official website] on Tuesday affirmed [opinion, PDF] a 2014 decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] in favor of unions concerning First Amendment rights of public teachers who do not wish to pay union fees. In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association [SCOTUSblog materials] the court was asked to decide whether public employees who have opted out of a union that represents their interests must still affirmatively opt-out of paying the portion of the union dues that are not directly used for collective bargaining. The petitioner's argument hinged on the idea that a nonmember should not be required to subsidize an outside advocacy group such as a union. The petitioner also argued that an opt-out policy is burdensome, and that collective bargaining is inherently political. The defendant union relied on precedent from Abood v. Detroit Board of Education [opinion] where the court established the legality of such "agency fees" to be levied on non-union members in support of collective bargaining.

Petitioner Rebecca Friedrichs is a California public school teacher who opted out of her union, the California Teachers Association [union website]. The court heard oral arguments in January [JURIST report], and Friedrichs argued that she should not have had to affirmatively opt-out of dues to that union, as that policy did not uphold her First Amendment rights. The case arose [Oyez Project summary] out of a California law that upholds an opt-out policy for a portion of the fees of nonmembers. Unions cannot compel nonmembers to support its political activities, and unions must send annual notices to nonmembers itemizing the union fees. Under California law, a nonmember must affirmatively opt out yearly to avoid giving the portion of the fees they cannot be compelled to pay. In the 2014 case of Harris v. Quinn [opinion, PDF], the court ruled [JURIST report] on a similar union case and decided not to overrule Abood in a 5-4 decision.

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