In Scalia's absence, unions get a big Supreme Court win

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
Supreme Court Tie Vote in Public Union Case

The Supreme Court on Tuesday announced it had deadlocked on a challenge to organized labor, handing unions a huge win in a case many anticipated would not go in their favor.

The 4-4 decision in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association upholds a lower court ruling dealing with union fees and is a crushing blow for union opponents, who lost the potentially deciding vote in their favor when conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died in February.

Related: See photos of Merrick Garland:

11 PHOTOS
Obama appoints new Supreme Court justice Merrick Garland
See Gallery
In Scalia's absence, unions get a big Supreme Court win
Federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland, stands with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as he is introduced as Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court during an announcement in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2016. Garland, 63, is the chief judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a court whose influence over federal policy and national security matters has made it a proving ground for potential Supreme Court justices. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland, right, shakes hands with with President Barack Obama as Vice President Joe Biden looks on as he is introduced as Obamaâs nominee for the Supreme Court during an announcement in the Rose Garden of the White House, on Wednesday, March 16, 2016, in Washington. Garland, 63, is the chief judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a court whose influence over federal policy and national security matters has made it a proving ground for potential Supreme Court justices. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland, right, stands with President Barack Obama as he is introduced as Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court during an announcement in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland, right, stands with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as he is introduced as Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court during an announcement in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, center, introduce Federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland, right, as Obamaâs nominee for the Supreme Court during an announcement in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland, right, stands with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as he is introduced as Obamaâs nominee for the Supreme Court during an announcement in the Rose Garden of the White House, on Wednesday, March 16, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland, walks out with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as he is introduced as Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court during an announcement in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
This photo provided by the U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit shows Chief Judge Merrick Garland in 2013, in Washington. (U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit via AP)
FILE - In this May 1, 2008 file photo, Judge Merrick B. Garland, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, is pictured before the start of a ceremony at the federal courthouse in Washington. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the court's oldest member and leader of its liberal bloc, he is retiring. President Barack Obama now has his second high court opening to fill. The leading candidates to replace Stevens are Solicitor General Elena Kagan, 49, and federal appellate Judges Merrick Garland, 57, and Diane Wood, 59. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
Deputy U.S. Attorney Merrick Garland, left, looks on as interim U.S. Attorney Patrick Ryan answers questions during a news conference Thursday May 18, 1995, following a preliminary hearing in El Reno, Okla., for Terry Nichols. A magistrate ruled that there was enough evidence to hold Nichols in prison. (AP Photo/David Longstreath)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

"The U.S. Supreme Court today rejected a political ploy to silence public employees like teachers, school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, higher education faculty and other educators to work together to shape their profession," National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García said in a statement following the ruling. "In Friedrichs, the court saw through the political attacks on the workplace rights of teachers, educators and other public employees. This decision recognizes that stripping public employees of their voices in the workplace is not what our country needs."

SEE MORE: NC attorney general says he won't defend transgender bathroom law

A decision in favor of the petitioners would have eliminated what's known as agency fees – money paid to unions by non-union members in exchange for non-political union activities they benefit from, like collective bargaining services that lead to higher salaries and professional development opportunities.

Agency fees are collected in 25 states, including California and the District of Columbia. Under federal law, unions cannot use the money for political purposes, like lobbying or voter registration drives.

The plaintiffs in the case argued that agency fees are an infringement on their First Amendment rights of free speech and free association, since collective bargaining is by nature political. In negotiating with school boards, for example, unions can take positions on things like tenure that nonmembers may not support, and therefore, teachers who decide not to join their local union should not have to contribute to those costs.

Meanwhile, the California Teachers Association and its parent union, the NEA, argued that the fees are not a violation of First Amendment rights because a portion of them is reimbursed annually, and also because the money covers things that benefit non-union members. Were it not for the fees, they said, nonmembers would be freeloading off of union members.
The 4-4 split from the justices upholds the Supreme Court's 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which held that no one can be forced to join a union or contribute to its political activities, but that teachers unions can charge nonmembers a fee to cover the costs of nonpolitical activities, including collective bargaining.

Check out some of the landmark cases the Supreme Court has decided:

10 PHOTOS
Supreme Court SCOTUS landmark cases
See Gallery
In Scalia's absence, unions get a big Supreme Court win
An estimated 5,000 people, women and men, march around the Minnesota Capitol building protesting the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, ruling against state laws that criminalize abortion, in St. Paul, Minn., Jan. 22, 1973. The marchers formed a "ring of life" around the building. (AP Photo)
1966: Since 1966 police have to advise a suspect that they have the right to remain silent and the right to counsel during interrogation. The so called 'Miranda Warning' after Ernesto Miranda who had a retrial because he was not so advised. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
Clarence Earl Gideon, 52-year-old mechanic who changed the course of legal history, is seen shortly after his release from prison on August 6, 1963 in Panama City, Florida. In 1961, Gideon was wrongly charged with burglary and sentenced to five years in prison. Gideon filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that his constitutional right to liberty was denied when Florida refused him an attorney. In a landmark decision later known as Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, stating that anyone accused of a crime should be guaranteed the right to an attorney, whether or not he or she could afford one. (AP Photo)
Linda Brown Smith, 9, is shown in this 1952 photo. Smith was a 3rd grader when her father started a class-action suit in 1951 of the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., which led to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 landmark decision against school segregation. (AP Photo)
African American students at a segregated school following the supreme court case Plessy vs Ferguson established Separate But Equal, 1896. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)
Dollree Mapp, 12, who was involved in a Landmark U.S. Supreme court decision concerning illegal search and seizure in 1931, is escorted into 105th precinct in New York by CET. John Bergersen. She was arrested in her apartment in Queens, New York City on February 18, where police said they recovered drugs valued at $800,000. A man, Allen Lyins, 33, was also taken into custody. The landmark decision, Mapp V. Ohio, found for Mrs. Mapp on grounds that police had forcibly searched her apartment in 1961 with out search warrant. (AP Photo)
President Nixon tells a White House news conference, March 15, 1973, that he will not allow his legal counsel, John Dean, to testify on Capitol Hill in the Watergate investigation and challenged the Senate to test him in the Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi)
Supporters of the U.S. Supreme Courts ruling on same-sex marriage gather on the step of the Texas Capitol for a news conference celebrating marriage equality and looking to important work ahead, Monday, June 29, 2015, in Austin, Texas. The Supreme Court declared Friday that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the United States. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Some of the parents who brought suit against public schoolroom prayer in the Herricks School District pose with some of their children at Roslyn Heights, a Long Island suburb of New York City, after the Supreme Court said the prayer was unconstitutional on June 26, 1962. The group was sparked by Lawrence Roth, right foreground. Parents are, at center, left to right, Thelma Engel, Ruth Liechtenstein and the Roths. Children are, left to right, rear: Michael Engel, 11; Dan Roth, 17; Judy Liechtenstein, 19; and Joe Roth, 14. Front: Jonathan Engel, 4, and Madeleine Engel, 7. (AP Photo)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

In recent years, public sector unions have suffered blow after blow, with Republican governors and state legislatures successfully challenging collective bargaining rights in historic labor strongholds like Michigan and Wisconsin.

The Friedrichs case was not the first to challenge union fees. Last year, in Harris v. Quinn, the justices ruled 5-4, that Medicaid home health workers were not full public employees and therefore could not be compelled to pay collective bargaining union fees – a narrow decision but one that many Supreme Court watchers said was a sign the court seemed poised to overturn the longstanding precedent set by Abood.

As a result, the Friedrichs case was slated to deal the most serious blow yet to unions, overturning more than four decades of legal precedent and effectively converting every state into a right-to-work jurisdiction overnight.

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners