It’s been a rough road for public sector unions lately, particularly with their having spent millions of dollars in a losing effort to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
A Supreme Court ruling released today in the case of Knox v Seiu is, if not another nail in the unions’ coffin, at least a staple.
In a 7-2 opinion in which Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg joined with the Court’s five conservatives (their concurrence extending only to the ruling, but objecting to other aspects of the majority’s decision), the Court ruled that the SEIU violated rights of non-members by requiring them to pay a special assessment which was used to fund political activities.
The issue was slightly more technical than it sounds: The union had sent out an annual letter allowing non-members to opt out of the part of union dues which would be used for political activities. That letter said that such dues might change without notice. The union then imposed a special assessment to fight anti-union legislation in California, without sending another required Hudson letter offering non-members the right to opt out from the assessment. The Court ruled that that letter was required, and that a retroactive lowering of dues to those who would have objected was insufficient because their money would already have been used to express political opinions they object to, in violation of the First Amendment.
The majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, notes that this sort of case is not about “balancing”, as the often-overturned Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled. Rather, “Compulsory subsidies for private speech are…subject to exacting First Amendment scrutiny…”
When the SEIU loses two of Court’s most liberal members, they must know that their recent string of richly-deserved bad fortune has not come to an end.