The Slatest

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Case That Will Likely Wipe Out Public-Sector Unions

A teachers union protest. Don’t expect too many more of these in the future.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

On Friday the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case next term that could wipe out public-sector unions. These unions require all public employees in a certain profession to pay fees associated with nonpolitical union representation, like collective bargaining. Now 10 California teachers, along with the Christian Educators Association International, are suing to halt the collection of these fees. They believe that mandatory union payments constitute compelled political speech in violation of the First Amendment.

There is virtually no chance that the Supreme Court will disagree. Over the last several years, Justice Samuel Alito—undoubtedly unions’ biggest enemy on the court—has been tightening the noose around unions’ necks. Joined by his fellow conservatives, Alito has issued two rulings that restricted public-sector unions’ ability to collect mandatory fees. In the second of these cases, Alito essentially telegraphed that he was prepared to rule that the entire system of mandatory fees is unconstitutional—overturning settled precedent in the process. Next term, he will have that opportunity. And there is every reason to believe he (and the court’s other conservatives) will take it.

Stripped of the ability to collect mandatory fees, many public-sector unions will lose much of their bargaining power. Some will likely collapse. This consequence is especially noteworthy given that conservatives claimed their ruling in Citizens United would empower both corporations and unions. Now the court is poised to wipe out public-sector unions in the name of free speech. And corporations will still be free to dump billions of dollars into elections to achieve the outcome they desire.