June 27, 2018

SCOTUS Update: Mandatory Public-Sector Union Dues

The Supreme Court just ruled in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees that the First Amendment prohibits states from facilitating the compulsory collection of public-sector union dues from state employees who are not members of the union.  The court overruled Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, a 1977 case that had upheld the imposition of mandatory union dues on teachers in Detroit.  The solicitor general had filed a brief in the case supporting the invalidation of Abood.


The plaintiff in Janus, a child-support specialist for the state of Illinois who was not a member of the union, challenged an Illinois statute allowing unions to charge mandatory fees, known as “agency fees,” to public employees.  The statute authorized public-sector unions to require employees in a “collective bargaining unit” to “pay their proportionate share of the costs of the collective bargaining process.”  It prohibited unions from using these mandatory fees for political purposes.  The plaintiff asserted that the imposition of mandatory union dues violated his First Amendment rights by forcing him to fund union collective-bargaining activities that were effectively political in nature.  The lower courts rejected the plaintiff’s claim as barred by Abood


In a 5 – 4 decision, the Supreme Court determined that the justifications for mandatory public-sector union dues adopted in Abood – promoting “labor peace” and preventing other employees from “free riding” on the efforts of a union – did not provide good enough reasons to impinge on an employee’s First Amendment rights against compelled speech.  The court similarly rejected new justifications offered by the defendants for the mandatory dues, such as “that the absence of agency fees would cripple public-sector unions and thus impair the efficiency of government operations.”  The court also determined that stare decisis did not prevent it from overruling Abood, which it called “poorly reasoned,” “inconsistent with other First Amendment cases,” “undermined by more recent decisions,” and unworkable.

Issue Tag: Judiciary