This had gone under my radar till now. But it could be a big, big case:
William Messenger of the National Right to Work Committee asked the Supreme Court today to hold that public employee unions are unconstitutional.
“This is—I’m just going to use the word here, it is a radical argument. It would radically restructure the way workplaces across this country are—are run,” Justice Elena Kagan said from the bench. Since 1948, she pointed out, states have had the power to enact “right-to-work” laws that limit union power. Was Messenger arguing that “a right-to-work law is constitutionally compelled?”
Messenger didn’t back off. “In the public sector, yes,” he replied.
The NRTWC wants the Court to rule that “permitting the unions to collect fees for representing non-members—the so-called ‘agency fee’—violates the First Amendment.” This would be a decision that went against the precedent of at least the last 35 years, and Justice Scalia (of all people) seems to be the swing vote.
My reading of this—for what it’s worth, which is not all that much, since I don’t exactly have my finger on the pulse of the Court—is that there is a great reluctance to take such a huge step to reverse precedent, and that it is unlikely to happen. SCOTUSBLOG, one of the better reporters on such things, doesn’t seem to considers it all that likely either, but still a distinct possibility, at least according to the justices’ demeanors:
…[T]he atmospherics of Tuesday’s argument suggested strongly that this case has very large potential. The mood of the Court’s more liberal members was one of obvious trepidation, and that of its more conservative members — except for Justice Scalia — was of apparent eagerness to reach anew the core constitutionality of compulsory union support among public workers.
Ann Althouse reminds us of the way public unions actually work—at least according to Scott Walker, who has had a fair amount of experience fighting them in Wisconsin:
…[George Will wrote that] public sector unions are nothing more than “government organized as a special interest to lobby itself to expand itself.”
Collective bargaining gives the union bosses the keys to the statehouse, city hall, and school. It allows them to effectively sit on both sides of the bargaining table when contracts are negotiated, while no one represents the interests of the taxpayers (whose money is at stake) or the children (whose education hangs in the balance). It is cronyism, plain and simple.
It’s always risky to predict what the Supreme Court will do. But if the current Court takes a step as big as limiting public union power in this way on a national level, I will be surprised—and pleased.