Thursday, March 31, 2016

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association – The Holding Pattern Begins

In a one sentence decision on Tuesday, March 30, 2016, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the lower court in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association keeping public sector union “fair share” dues alive and well.  While the California Teachers Association is touting this as a “decision that recognizes that stripping public employees of their collective bargaining rights in the workplace is a step in the wrong direction,” that’s not really what it is.  In fact, it isn’t a decision at all.

Because of a 4-4 tie as a result of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the lower court’s decision must be affirmed.  It’s as simple as that.  This isn’t a win for the unions.  It’s a non-decision.  And sadly it leaves the issues raised in Friedrichs unresolved.  

The Friedrichs case was never about taking away the rights of public sector employees to form unions and to engage in collective bargaining.  It was about how the unions get their money.  It’s really not very hard to understand unless you just don’t want to understand it.  It doesn’t appear that the California Teachers Association wants to understand it (I have to take this position because if a group of teachers wants to understand this case and what they get out of it is that it was about stripping collective bargaining rights, their reading comprehension level is woefully deficient, and that’s just plain scary for California school children and parents).

The unions don’t want this to be about how they get their money.  It just sounds too earthy and dirty.  Legal principles, things we are fighting over in the highest court in the land should be lofty.  To that I say, horse feathers.  This case was about funding unions and making people who don’t support the unions’ agenda pay “fair share” dues because they choose not to be union members.  It’s money, pure and simple.  It’s a dirty subject.  Like politics, it corrupts…or wait maybe its money that corrupts politics.  Whatever, this is Illinois, so you get it.

Friedrichs was about the very essence of our constitutional protections: the First Amendment.  A teacher was forced to pay fair share dues to a union whose vision and ideology she does not support.  In turn, her money can be used by the union to support political candidates who support union agenda items.  She complained that this violated her First Amendment rights because she is, by virtue of the fact that she is forced to pay fair share dues to a union that she does not support, also forced to support political candidates and ideals that she does not agree with.  It really is that simple.  But the California Teachers Union really can’t say that this was a decision about “insuring the continued flow of money from people who don’t support our agenda so we can buy candidates who do.”  While that is the truth, it just doesn’t sound very nice.

This brings me to my final observation.  While we continue in our efforts to advance the lofty aims of our most revered democracy during this political season, it might be time to step back and take a long, hard look in the mirror.  While I don’t know at this point that this 4 – 4 tie was along the partisan lines of the presidents who nominated the justices voting, I’m fairly confident in saying that it won’t shock me if it was.  That said, it is yet another example of the fact that we care more about our political agendas than we do about doing what is right, even when that means ignoring the Constitution.  Oh well, there’s always term limits…no wait, Supreme Court justices don’t have those.  That’s good.  Otherwise, the Court might become just one more political sideshow, and that might deflect attention from the egomaniacal clowns running for president.  We certainly can’t have that.