When the United States government passed the Bill of Rights in 1791, its uncompromising protection of speech and of the press were unlike anything the world had ever seen before. But by 1798, the once-dazzling young republic of the United States was on the verge of collapse: Partisanship gripped the weak federal government, British seizures threatened American goods and men on the high seas, and war with France seemed imminent as its own democratic revolution deteriorated into terror. Suddenly, the First Amendment, which protected harsh commentary of the weak government, no longer seemed as practical. So that July, President John Adams and the Federalists in control of Congress passed an extreme piece of legislation that made criticism of the government and its leaders a crime punishable by heavy fines and jail time. Liberty’s First Crisis tells the story of the 1798 Sedition Act, the crucial moment when high ideals met real-world politics and the country’s future hung in the balance. Author Charles Slack discussed his latest book and answered questions from the audience.
On June 30, 2015, the Supreme Court decided to revisit whether the First Amendment permits the government to compel its employees to financially support a union by granting certiorari in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, No. 14-915. In Friedrichs, the Court will consider whether to overrule Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977), which held that public employees can be compelled to financially support union collective-bargaining with government, but not union political activities.
The Court’s grant of certiorari in Friedrichs comes on the one-year anniversary of its decision in Harris v. Quinn, where Court criticized Abood’s rationales, but did not overrule Abood after finding it inapplicable to the non-employee Medicaid providers who brought the case. Unlike Harris, Friedrichs squarely presents the issue decided in Abood—whether public school teachers can be required to pay compulsory union fees as condition of their employment.
The Friedrichs petitioners argue that Abood should be overturned because there is no distinction between bargaining with government and lobbying government—both are political speech. The respondent California Teachers Association, however, counters that union bargaining with government is akin to bargaining with a private employer, and that it wrongful for teachers to get a so-called “free ride” on union bargaining efforts.
Is the Court likely to overrule Abood? And what will be the implications if it does?
Stanford Law School Professor Michael McConnell discusses some of the surprising facts you might not know about the face of the $10 bill.
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