Teacher to Petition Court to Rehear Case on Compulsory Union Dues

4-4 ruling preserved forced unionism for government workers

California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs / AP
California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs / AP
March 29, 2016

The California teacher challenging compulsory union dues will file a request for the Supreme Court to rehear her case after it deadlocked on her petition to overturn longstanding precedent.

"We are very patient people and we are definitely in this for the long haul," veteran teacher Rebecca Friedrichs said in a Tuesday conference call with reporters. "In our view it simply delays the final outcome ... I am very hopeful that the justices will let us reargue the case."

The court announced that it had reached a 4-4 tie along partisan lines in Freidrichs v. California Teachers Association. The tie vote preserved the ability of public sector agencies to mandate union membership as a condition of employment by affirming the decisions of lower courts. Friedrichs’ attorneys had hoped that the Supreme Court would declare the practice unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds, overturning the precedent set by Abood v. Detroit (1977). Her attorneys at the Center for Individual Rights, a public interest law firm, had conceded the case in the lower courts, acknowledging that they could not overturn the Supreme Court precedent.

Terry Pell, the law firm’s president, said it is in the interest of the court to rehear the case in order to have a clear rule and remove any doubts about the legality of forced union dues parments. Twenty-three states allow the practice, which would be affected by the ruling.

"If we don’t get authoritative decision … the union is essentially under a cloud," Pell said in the conference call. "It’s in everybody’s interest to get an authoritative decision one way or the other … It would be a lost opportunity if the court did not give one."

Frank Wells, a spokesman for the California Teachers Association, said that he does not expect the court to rehear the case, saying that court history and the particular merits of Friedrichs make it an unlikely candidate for a rehearing.

"We don’t anticipate that this particular case is going to see the light of day again," Wells said in a phone interview. "We’re just feeling good about the decision today and we realize that there will continue to be attacks on educators and labor."

Friedrichs emphasized that the case did not object to collective bargaining or public sector unions. She said that she respected any teacher who opted into the union, but wants the court to respect her right to stop paying dues or agency fees.

"Our rights are being violated everyday and we hope the justices will put an end to this suffering," she said. "This case is about protecting the individual rights that each of us are given in the Constitution … No one should be forced to fund political positions with which we disagree."

Friedrichs will have 25 days to file a petition to the court. The justices will then solicit a response from the defendants. Five votes are needed to rehear the case, meaning that a decision is unlikely to come until the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia is filled.

Published under: Supreme Court , Unions