WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Wednesday in Janus v. AFSCME that nonunion workers cannot be forced to pay fees to public sector unions.
The case, one of the most hotly anticipated of the term, is the second in two days to hand a major victory to conservatives, following Tuesday’s holding by the court that President Donald Trump’s travel ban is constitutional. Some experts have said that a holding in favor of the plaintiff, Mark Janus, would be the most significant court decision affecting collective bargaining in decades.
Janus, an employee at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Human Services, asked the court last summer to overrule a 40-year-old Supreme Court decision. It found that public sector unions could require employees affected by their negotiations to pay so-called “agency fees,” which have also been called “fair share fees.”
Those fees, approved by the court in the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, cover collective bargaining costs, such as contract negotiations, but are meant to exclude political advocacy.
Janus argued that his $45 monthly fee to the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees was unconstitutional. He said the fees infringed on his first amendment rights, and that, in the case of public employees whose contract negotiations are with the government, the fees were a form of political advocacy.
He argued that there was little distinction, for instance, between requiring employees to fund unions that engage in political lobbying and requiring them to fund political groups such as the Democratic Party.
The court on Wednesday agreed with Janus’s argument.
“Compelling individuals to mouth support for views they find objectionable violates that cardinal constitutional command, and in most contexts, any such effort would be universally condemned,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito, who authored the court’s opinion in the case.