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Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (U.S. Sup. Ct.)

In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the Supreme Court considered whether to overrule its prior decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which upheld “agency shop” or “fair share” arrangements against constitutional challenge.

Under these arrangements, unions act as the exclusive bargaining representative for all employees in a unit, whether they join a union or not, and all employees, including non-union members, are required to pay a share of the unions’ collective bargaining costs. (Under Abood, non-union members are not required to contribute money for political activities or other union activities not connected to collective bargaining.)

The plaintiffs in Friedrichs challenged such an arrangement, arguing that the share of costs that non-union members paid amounted to compelled support of political speech in violation of the First Amendment. They also argued that California’s law, which allowed non-union employees to opt out of paying for non-collective bargaining activities, was not sufficiently protective of their First Amendment rights, contending instead that employees should only be required to contribute to those activities if they affirmatively opt in.

On November 13, 2015, Constitutional Accountability Center filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of 48 current and former Republican members of state legislatures and Congress in support of the California Teachers Association. Our brief argued that the First Amendment does not deprive states of the power to enact agency-shop laws requiring government employees to pay their fair share of the costs of collective bargaining. Moreover, allowing States to determine for themselves whether to adopt agency fee arrangements is consistent with our Nation’s federalist structure and the authority of States to govern in areas where uniform national legislation is not necessary, so long as no other constitutional provision prohibits their action. The attempt by the challengers in Friedrichs to constitutionalize this aspect of labor relations is not required by the First Amendment and is inconsistent with the significant deference long accorded state judgments in this context.

The Court heard oral argument on January 11, 2016. On March 29, 2016, an equally divided, 4-4 Court issued a per curiam order affirming the judgment of the court below, which had upheld the constitutionality of agency shop arrangements.