From NPR News:
The Supreme Court heard fiery arguments Monday in a case that could remove a key revenue stream for public sector unions.
A sharply divided court could be poised to overturn a 40-year-old Supreme Court decision that would further undermine an already shrinking union movement.
Attorneys for Mark Janus, a child support specialist for the state of Illinois, argue that people like Janus, who choose not to join a union, shouldn’t be compelled to pay partial union fees. The union argues that he should because he benefits from collective bargaining negotiations. The Supreme Court agreed in 1977, but that could change with the new conservative tilt of the court.
When a decision is reached, expected in June, all eyes will be on Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was uncharacteristically quiet in Monday’s proceedings. He asked no questions and is likely to be the deciding vote, given that the other justices split 4 to 4 in a similar case in 2016. That case was decided just after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, and the balance didn’t seem to change Monday.
“You’re basically arguing, do away with unions,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued at one point in questioning the attorney for the National Right to Work Legal Foundation, William Messenger.
On the other side, conservatives sympathized with Janus’ argument that the unions are political, and people shouldn’t have to join a union they disagree with on politics.
Chief Justice John Roberts argued that what unions do affects policy and therefore makes them political. “How do negotiation over wages not affect the state budget?” he asked.
Justice Anthony Kennedy asked David Frederick, the attorney for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Illinois affiliate, whether a ruling against AFSCME would reduce its political influence.
Frederick agreed that it would.
“Isn’t that the end of this case?” Kennedy asked.
Liberal Justice Elena Kagan warned against the potential breadth of the decision, which would affect 23 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, which have similar laws on the books.
“Thousands of municipalities would have contracts invalidated,” Kagan warned. “Those contracts probably cover millions, maybe up to over 10 million, workers.”
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