Sunday, February 11, 2018

Funding of CA Politics

California has been a "blue" state for some time and is likely to remain so. However, a case is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court that would limit the ability of public sector unions to collect service fees (in lieu of dues) from non-members they represent. Generally in California, public sector unions - such as those of teachers - have been important in funding Democratic candidates, and particular candidates when Democrats compete for a nomination.

It was expected that an earlier case that the Court heard would result in elimination of such funding but the death of Justice Scalia prevented it. A new case is now before the Court with the expectation being that the Court will void such service fee requirements. However, as the item below indicates, a friend-of-the-court brief from libertarian-leaning Prof. Eugene Volokh and a co-author, makes a case for the pro-union side in this matter:



Rachel M. Cohen, February 2 2018, The Intercept

THE SUPREME COURT will hear arguments this month in a case challenging the constitutionality of so-called agency fees, payments that workers represented by a union must pay if they do not wish to be dues-paying members. Conservatives have been crusading against these fees for years on First Amendment grounds, and with Justice Neil Gorsuch on the bench, the labor movement’s odds seem grim.

But last month, unions got a surprising lifeline from an unlikely friend: Two prominent conservative legal scholars filed an amicus brief in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31 — the case before the court — urging the justices to uphold a 1977 decision that ruled the agency fees constitutional.

The case has gotten relatively little attention, but it is difficult to overstate its political importance. A decision striking down agency fees, also known as fair-share fees, could lead to massive free-riding and consequently, decimate public sector union coffers. Unions subsidize much of  the Democratic Party’s on-the-ground operations, which is another reason conservatives want to see their funds depleted. Indeed, the rightward shift in states like Wisconsin has coincided with the snuffing out of public unions — though it is no coincidence. Studies have shown that crushing unions can move the political needle by as much as 3 to 4 points, which in battleground states is the difference between winning and losing.

The case is in many ways a replay of 2016’s Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, in which 10 public school teachers challenged the constitutionality of their mandatory agency fees. The teachers, funded by conservative groups, claimed their fees subsidized political speech in violation of their rights. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, but it seemed likely the Supreme Court would side with the challengers. Yet after Justice Antonin Scalia unexpectedly died in his sleep in February 2016, the justices issued a split 4-4 decision, upholding the appellate court ruling.

Gorsuch’s addition to the bench has given unions much to be anxious about. In 2017, Gorsuch sided every time with Clarence Thomas, the court’s most conservative justice, and though there’s still a relatively small sample size of cases to judge Gorsuch’s record, no one doubts that he leans right. 

The surprising brief was filed by Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA who specializes in First Amendment issues, and William Baude, a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago. Neither one is especially fond of unions. Still, they argue that mandatory fair-share fees pose no First Amendment issue.

“Compelled subsidies of others’ speech happen all the time, and are not generally viewed as burdening any First Amendment interest,” they write. “Just as non-union members may find many reasons to disagree with a public union’s speech, there are countless grounds to object to other speech supported by government funds. Many people undoubtedly disagree with a great deal of public and private speech funded by taxes or other compulsory payments. There is, however, no First Amendment interest in avoiding those subsidies.”

In other words, the government regularly compels taxes and uses that money to pay for things that taxpayers may politically disagree with, and these union fees should be treated no differently. Volokh and Baude cite public school curriculum and crisis pregnancy centers as two common examples. They argue it’s well within the government’s authority to compel their employees to pay fees for a governmental interest – in this case, maintaining labor peace – even if that money may subsidize things that some personally object to...

Charlotte Garden, a liberal constitutional law professor who also filed a Janus amicus brief on behalf of labor law scholars, told The Intercept she thinks there is a greater likelihood that conservative justices and their clerks will take Baude and Volokh’s argument seriously, precisely because the two don’t necessarily favor unions as a policy matter. In other words, they could be seen as “honest brokers.” Additionally, Garden said, because Volokh and Baude “are household names and academics who write from a more conservative/libertarian perspective,” there’s a greater chance that the justices and their clerks will “pull their brief from the (large) pile of amicus briefs for a closer read.”...


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