The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday in Janus vs. AFSCME [docket] that public sector unions cannot collect what the court calls “agency fee[s] i.e., a percentage of the full union dues” from non-members.
In a 5-4 ruling, the court, citing the First Amendment, held that the payment of agency fees forces nonmembers to “endorse ideas they find objectionable.”
In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote:
When speech is compelled, however, additional damage is done. In that situation, individuals are coerced into betraying their convictions. Forcing free and independent individuals to endorse ideas they find objectionable is always demeaning, and for this reason, one of our landmark free speech cases [West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette] said that a law commanding “involuntary affirmation” of objected-to beliefs would require “even more immediate and urgent grounds” than a law demanding silence.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy and Neil Gorsuch joined the majority opinion while Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wrote dissents with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sotomayor joining the latter.
In this decision the Supreme Court overturned a 1977 ruling, Abood v. Detroit [text], which held that agency fees were necessary because they “reduce the risk that nonunion employees will become “free riders” by fairly distributing the costs of exclusive representation; and… promote the cause of labor peace in the public sector.”
Janus was argued [JURIST report] before the court in February after being granted certiorari in September. The case was initially brought by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner with Mark Janus, an Illinois state employee, intervening. However, the governor’s complaint was dismissed for lack of standing while Janus was allowed to continue his challenge.