In a sign of things to come, one of the biggest labor cases before the U.S. Supreme Court this term ended today in a 4-4 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 this morning inFriedrichs v. California Teachers Association, Case No. 14-915. Before the death of Justice Antonin Scalia on February 13, the Court was widely expected to rule in favor of the plaintiffs and overturn a nearly 40-year-old precedent,Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209 (1977), which says all public employees who are represented by a union – members and nonmembers alike – can be required to pay union dues, as long as they are able to 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 4-4 decision means public employee unions in California can continue to charge mandatory dues, and the larger question regarding whether or not public employees can be compelled to pay dues to a union that they oppose remains unresolved. It is also important to note that this case did not involve any challenge to union dues charged to private sector employees.