US Supreme Court Splits 4-4 in OC’s Friedrichs v. CTA
Posted by Chris Nguyen on March 29, 2016
This morning, the United States Supreme Court issued a one-sentence ruling in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association: “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.”
That single sentence ruling while not setting a precedent leaves in place a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that it does not violate the First Amendment to require public employees (in this case, public school teachers) to object to having their dues used for political purposes rather than requiring they consent to political uses of their dues. In other words, the Ninth Circuit ruled an opt-out system was constitutional, and unions did not have to subscribe to an opt-in system to use public employee union dues for political purposes.
This the second such 4-4 ruling since the February death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Scalia had been widely expected to support striking down the Ninth Circuit ruling.
Had Scalia lived and the petitioners prevailed 5-4, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association would have represented a sea change in American and California politics and governance.
The 4-4 ruling in what would have been a landmark decision demonstrates the incredible impact of Scalia’s death on the closely-divided court. This will only further highlight the importance of the nominee to succeed Scalia on the Supreme Court, which in turn will draw the Supreme Court further into the presidential election.
Public employee unions’ enormous sums of money for political campaigns have been fueled by the dues they collect from their members. For an individual employee to opt out of contributing their dues for political purposes, that employee must during a six-week period each year send a letter to the union stating they wish to opt out (there’s even a confusing box on the CTA’s regular dues form that implies employees can opt out entirely but is actually a box that accomplishes a far narrower task).
Had the Supreme Court simplified the opt-out system or switched opt-out to opt-in, there would have been a precipitous fall in the amount of union money in politics. This would have made it much tougher for union allies to win elected office in Congress, the State Legislature, and local government. Fewer elected officials would have been beholden to teachers unions.
Led by Orange County teacher Rebecca Friedrichs, ten California teachers and the Christian Educators Association International had filed suit against the California Teachers Association (state teachers union), the National Education Association (national teachers union), and ten local teachers unions, including four from Orange County:
- Savanna District Teachers Association
- Saddleback Valley Educators Association
- Orange Unified Education Association
- Santa Ana Educators Association
Also among the respondents were the Superintendents of the Savanna School District, Saddleback Valley Unified School District, Orange Unified School District, and Santa Ana Unified School District.
For those wondering about the Supreme Court’s first 4-4 ruling, it was issued last week in Hawkins v. Community Bank, a case on whether spouses who guarantee commercial loans constitute “applicants” under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which would trigger protection from marital-status discrimination.