In a sign of things to come, one of the biggest labour cases before the Supreme Court this term recently ended in a four-four tie, thus letting stand the Ninth Circuit's decision that mandatory union dues do not infringe on public school teachers' First Amendment rights.
The one-sentence decision, "The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court", was issued in Friedrichs v California Teachers Association (14-915). Before the death of Justice Antonin Scalia on February 13 2016, the court was widely expected to rule in favour of the plaintiffs and overturn a nearly 40-year-old precedent, Abood v Detroit Board of Education (431 US 209 (1977)), which states that all public employees who are represented by a union – members and non-members alike – can be required to pay union dues, provided that they can opt out of the portion of the fees used to fund political or ideological activities.
A series of cases have eroded the value of Abood but none has been factually on point until now. Today's four-four decision means that public employee unions in California can continue to charge mandatory dues, and the larger question regarding whether public employees can be compelled to pay dues to a union that they oppose remains unresolved. This case did not involve any challenge to union dues charged to private sector employees.
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