January 13, 2016
On January 11, 2016, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. Under California law and existing Supreme Court precedent, unions can become the exclusive bargaining representative for the public school employees of their district and establish an “agency shop” arrangement requiring public school employees either to join the union or pay a fee to support the union’s collective bargaining activities. Although the First Amendment prohibits unions from compelling non-members to support activities unrelated to collective bargaining, in California non-members must affirmatively “opt out” to avoid paying for these unrelated or “nonchargeable” expenses.
Here a group of public school employees sued the California Teachers Association and various other entities, arguing that the agency shop arrangement itself--as well as the opt-out requirement--violated the First Amendment. The district court denied their claim and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed based on existing precedent and the 1997 Supreme Court decision Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.
The two questions now before the Supreme Court are: (1) Whether the Abood precedent should be overruled and public-sector “agency shop” arrangements invalidated under the First Amendment; and (2) whether it violates the First Amendment to require that public employees affirmatively object to subsidizing nonchargeable speech by public-sector unions, rather than requiring that employees affirmatively consent to subsidizing such speech.
To discuss the case, we have Richard A. Epstein, the Peter and Kirsten Bedford Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law, New York University School of Law and Professor Emeritus and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School.