High Court Orders SEIU, Illinois to Reply to Forced Unionism Case

Defendants attempted to waive response briefs

Supreme Court
Getty Images
August 15, 2017

The Supreme Court ordered the Service Employees International Union to provide briefs in a case that threatens to put an end to laws forcing dues payments from government workers.

The SEIU initially waived their right to file a response brief in Hill v. SEIU, which challenges the state of Illinois' recognition of the union as the monopoly bargaining agent between the state and home health care workers that receive Medicaid reimbursements. Defendants in many court cases waive the right to file a response brief under the assumption that the Supreme Court will either dismiss the case or that filing a response will boost the chances that the justices will accept the case.

Plaintiffs petitioned for a writ of certiorari from the justices in June. The Court gave the SEIU and the state until July 13 to respond to the brief, but both waived their right to respond on July 6.

The lawyers defending the state of Illinois and the SEIU did not respond to requests for comment about the initial decision to waive a response brief or the Aug. 4 Court order.

The Hill case is one of two High Court challenges that could reverse the precedent set forty years ago in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which allowed government agencies to mandate dues payments as a condition of employment. The other, Janus v. AFSCME, specifically focuses on dues payments from government workers, which the plaintiffs argue is coerced political speech. Both cases were filed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

"Providers are being forced to accept a mandatory agent for lobbying the State over matters of public policy," the plaintiffs say in their petition to the Court. " An organization that represents individuals who are not public employees in their relations with the government is not just akin to a political organization: it is a political advocacy organization."

Foundation spokesman Patrick Semmens said that the Court ordering response briefs does not give a clear indication that the justices will accept the case, but it is a "positive sign" that at least one individual justice or clerk has taken an interest in the constitutional questions posed by the plaintiffs.

Right to Work proponents hope to use Hill as an immediate follow-up to Janus in order to first end compulsory unionism and then take on state recognition of public sector unions as sole bargaining agents for those who collect taxpayer dollars.

"This is a positive sign that suggests some interest in the petition by the Supreme Court. Hill gets to the core issue of can the government force state workers under a private organization’s 'representation' without violating their freedom of association," Semmens said. "By ordering the union and state to file the responses Hill will now be conferenced by the Court after Janus. So if SCOTUS takes Janus, they may decide to hold Hill pending a decision in Janus because the issues are related."

The Hill petition relies heavily on the Court's 2014 Harris v. Quinn decision, which ended Illinois' practice of diverting Medicaid dollars from home health aides to SEIU. The court ruled 5-4 that the aides did not qualify as public sector workers. Janus v. AFSCME, meanwhile, makes arguments similar to Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a 2016 case in which California teachers argued paying union fees in line with the Abood precedent constituted forced political association. The Court deadlocked on Friedrichs following the sudden death of Antonin Scalia.

SEIU and Illinois have until Sept. 5 to file their response briefs with the court.