Supreme Court Joins Pile-On
June 25, 2012 10:57 am
Justice Roberts’ Supreme Court made its anti-union sentiment clear with their ruling in Knox v. Service Employees International Union, Local No. 100 on Thursday. On the surface, the case dealt with a mid-year assessment levied by the local, in which dues were temporarily increased in order to fight two anti-union bills introduced by then-California Governor Schwarzenegger. In the highly politicized Majority Opinion, Justice Samuel Alito questioned the ability of unions to use dues for political purposes without express consent.
As was demonstrated in Wisconsin, unions cannot be considered a uniform democratic political base. However, the court’s 2010 ruling in the Citizens’ United case created an open playing field for wealthy contributors and corporations – this year’s election has magnates like Sheldon Adelson pledging sums of up to $100 million dollars for their preferred candidates, and we have yet to see the full consequences of the cash deluge brought on by this decision. Republican candidates have disproportionately benefited from the Citizens’ United decision, and unions are one of the last, best powerhouses for democratic political fundraising. This was apparent in last week’s AFSCME election, and it’s apparent in the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Knox.
As part of his statement mandating an opt-in decision for members wishing to support political causes, Justice Alito stated: “’Requiring objecting nonmembers to opt out of paying’ the full dues ‘represents a remarkable boon for unions,’ Alito said. ‘Unions have no constitutional entitlement to the fees of nonmember employees.’” Labor union representatives spoke on the limited scope of the decision: “’The implications here are extremely limited,’ said Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Labor Federation. He said the case involved a ‘very rare’ circumstance of a special midyear assessment.” However, Justice Stephen Breyer, who authored the dissent and voted against the ruling along with Justice Elena Kagan pinpointed the insidious nature of the ruling and its subtle comment on the ability of unions to participate in political fundraising: “…each reason the court offers in support of its ‘opt-in’ conclusion seems in logic to apply, not just to special assessments, but to ordinary yearly fee charges as well.”
2012 has unions under assault from conservative lawmakers, and the ability to quickly divert funds to fight anti-union bills or candidates is crucial. The Roberts’ Court may be preparing to make matters even more difficult for unions.
Read the decision here.