Supreme Court Will Not Revisit Forced Dues Case

March deadlock means California teachers must continue to pay union dues, fees

California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs / AP
California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs / AP
June 28, 2016

The Supreme Court will not rehear a veteran teacher’s challenge to forced unionization after the justices deadlocked on the case in March.

On Tuesday the high court ruled that it would not revisit Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association after reaching a 4-4 tie in a March ruling. The tie reverted the decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which followed longstanding Supreme Court precedent allowing public sector unions to collect membership dues or partial agency fees as a condition of employment.

Rebecca Friedrichs, who taught in elementary school for three decades in addition to being a former union official, and her fellow plaintiffs had asked the court to overturn the precedent, set in the 1977 Abood v. Detroit ruling. She argued that compulsory union dues were equivalent to compelled political speech since government unions make claims on the public treasury and taxpayer dollars.

Friedrichs told the Washington Free Beacon that she was "heartbroken" by the decision to not rehear the case once a ninth justice has been appointed to the court.

"We have accomplished much and brought national attention to an issue that strikes at the heart of every American’s right to free speech," she said in an email. "This battle for liberty cannot be abandoned, and we’ve built an incredible network, so I’m optimistic we can continue working together to restore First Amendment rights to teachers and other public sector workers."

Friedrichs will not return to the classroom in September. She plans on taking a year off of school to work toward education reform outside of the courtroom. She said her activism would focus on promoting policies that are "friendly to children and to help teachers, children, and parents to make their voices heard."

Labor watchdogs say that the Friedrichs case is not the only one that could put an end to forced unionization for government workers. The National Right to Work Foundation is arguing five different cases in the federal court system that have the potential to overturn Abood. The group is confident it can succeed.

"While we are disappointed that Rebecca Friedrichs’ case will not be the one to end mandatory union dues for America’s public servants, the fight taken up by Rebecca and her co-plaintiffs has not ended today," foundation president Mark Mix said in a release. "The 4-4 split in Friedrichs has no precedential legal value, we expect that the Supreme Court will reconsider the constitutionality of forced unionism before too long."

The decision will preserve the status quo for California teachers as they head out on summer vacation. Friedrich said that she hopes the case has at least raised the issue to national prominence.

"Many Americans (and most teachers) were unaware that teachers’ unions have been using forced dues to promote policies that benefit union leadership but often harm kids and teachers," Friedrichs said. "I do think it will have a positive effect because there is great power in truth."

Published under: Supreme Court