Supreme Court

Public Sector Union Loses Big at the Supreme Court


The U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision today in the case of Knox v. Service Employees International Union (SEIU). At issue was the use of union dues to pay for political advocacy by the SEIU. Because non-union government employees in California (and other states without right to work laws) are required to pay some union dues in order to cover collective bargaining and other activities that supposedly benefit even non-union workers, those dues will also sometimes end up funding the union's political activities. In this case, the SEIU had levied a special fee in order to fund several political campaigns in California without providing sufficient advance notice, essentially giving non-union workers no chance to object until after the fact. So the best those non-union workers could do was ask for a refund. In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito held that this practice by the SEIU ran afoul of the First Amendment:

Here, for nonmembers who disagreed with the electoral objectives, a refund provided after the union's objectives had already been achieved would be cold comfort.

To respect the limits of the First Amendment, the union should have sent out a new notice allowing nonmembers to opt in to the special fee rather than requiring them to opt out. Our cases have tolerated a substantial impingement on First Amendment rights by allowing unions to impose an opt-out requirement at all.  Even if this burden can be justified during the collection of regular dues on an annual basis, there is no way to justify the additional burden of imposing yet another opt-out requirement to collect special fees whenever the union desires….

Public-sector unions have the right under the First Amendment to express their views on political and social issues without government interference. But employees who choose not to join a union have the same rights.  The First Amendment creates a forum in which all may seek, without hindrance or aid from the State, to move public opinion and achieve their political goals…. Therefore, when a public-sector union imposes a special assessment or dues increase, the union must provide a fresh Hudson notice and may not exact any funds from nonmembers without their affirmative consent.

Notably, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, filed a concurring opinion in this case, ruling against the union on narrower grounds. That news won't go down well in certain quarters of the American left.

Download the full decision here.

NEXT: Ronald Bailey on the Disappointed Greens at Rio +20

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  1. I have to admit, I was wrong about the wise Latina. She has turned out to be a half way acceptable justice. She at least seems to be trying and thinking about it rather than just being a mindless hack, which is what Kagen appears to be.

    1. Would you say she’s wise?

      1. I guess you just did. In my excitement to get my stupid joke out, I totally skipped that word in your comment.

        I still think you’re wrong. This was payment for something.

        1. A dem appointed justice whacking the SEIU? Payment for what? How?

          1. I dunno…maybe a conservative voting to keep a certain man-date?

            1. It was 7-2. Only Breyer and Kagan dissenting.

              1. You can’t be too obvious when conspiring.

    2. Im not surprised. And I think you have the Sotomayor v Kagan distinction down exactly.

      There history suggested this, Sotomayor comes from a judging background, Kagan doesnt.

      I always had hopes that Sotomayor wouldnt entirely suck.

      1. Sotomayor was a real judge. Kagan has never been anything but a paid hack. The lesson of this is that no one should get on the court who hasn’t actually tried cases either as a judge or an attorney.

        1. I agree, I also think all appellate judges should have some trial judge experience.

          1. It seems like the best way is to work your way up thru the system. Appoint appellate judges from the trial judge system. Appoint Supremes from the appellate judges.

            1. Ah, so not a fan of Justice Scalia? Or O’Connor for that matter?

              1. Scalia could be better. And his biggest problem is that he is has no experience in the real world. Remember Scalia is the justice who gave us the infamous “police professionalism will prevent abuse” justification. Scalia’s problem is that he has lived his life in a bubble and is too arrogant to even think that there are a few things he perhaps doesn’t know.

                1. I like Scalia and Thomas, but only for their general principles. It’s clear from a lot of their decisions (more Scalia than Thomas, who is still a bit of a mystery) that they don’t know how the law is applied at the trial court level. They don’t like to hand down workable rules or guidance. In a way that’s good, because it’s probably less intrusive, but it’s also a pain and creates a lot of uncertainty. Most of my dealings come from the patent system, in which the Supreme Court is generally worthless, but at least trial court judges know what works and what doesn’t.

            2. Justice Thomas, like Scalia, also didn’t serve as a trial judge IIRC.

              Both were briefly on the Court of Appeals for DC Circuit, but Scalia was a professor and Thomas was at the EEOC.

              1. I think being a trial judge gives you more “real world” experience, as John said. It’s one thing to be well versed in the sort of academic side of the law but it’s not really a substitute for ass deep in it on a daily basis.

                1. I don’t necessarily think that being a trial judge gives you more real world experience either. The courtroom, including at the lower levels, is its own sort of bubble.

                2. I think being a trial judge gives you more “real world” experience, as John said.

                  Wouldn’t you want a SC Justice to be more “academically” inclined rather than “real world” inclined? Since the SC determines what is constitutional or not, I would rather they be more familiar with the document; its history, purpose, etc. The constitution is not a hard document to read, but for some reason they have a hell of a time figuring out what it means.

                  1. Wouldn’t you want a SC Justice to be more “academically” inclined rather than “real world” inclined?

                    No reason they can’t be both, and ideally they would be. I said some trial judge experience, not pulling some circuit court judge from bumfuck SC whose been on the same bench for 30 years and throwing him on the Court.

                    1. But do you need to be “ass-deep” in it to know that “congress shall pass no law…” means you can’t pass any law in violation of that prohibition? I am really curious as to what would be the ideal qualifications for a SCJ.

                    2. to know that “congress shall pass no law…” means you can’t pass any law in violation of that prohibition?

                      In that case they would “know” that the federal bans on perjury and death threats are unconstitutional. There were clearly meant to be public safety/justice system integrity exceptions to the freedom of speech.

                    3. There were clearly meant to be public safety/justice system integrity exceptions to the freedom of speech.

                      This is the problem. Where in the first does is say “shall pass no law, except in public safety/justice system issues.

                    4. Great, we summoned Tulpa.

                    5. Eh, I think that the end result of this policy would be to have nine members of the Supreme Court who had identical resumes and life experiences. Some of the justices should be trial judges, but I’m not convinced that all of them should be.

                    6. Maybe, but, to borrow from Mr. Nihilo, you don’t really need a whole lot of life experience to read and apply the Constitution.

                    7. I’m thinking appellate judges. Do you need the trial experience for what SC justices do?

                    8. Perhaps, maybe even probably not. I just like the idea of the 9 most powerful judges in the country having some first hand experience with the law as it applies to rest of us.

                    9. I just like the idea of the 9 most powerful judges in the country having some first hand experience with the law as it applies to rest of us.

                      In that case, you don’t want them to be trial judges. You want them to be small business owners who have dealt with regulation, people who have been arrested for having cameras, or something like that.

                      Judges, like cops, do not have first hand experience with the law as it applies to the rest of us. They’re special.

  2. SS and Darth Bader give the “conservatives” a favor on a decision no one cares about in exchange for…

    1. Get out. They don’t horse trade like that. They really don’t. They vote on the cases the day after the oral arguments and that is it.

      I don’t always agree with the Supreme Court. But they are not Congress. They have never shown any tendency to be Congress.

      1. Muslim fundamentalists had never shown any tendency towards anti-Americanism.

        Until they did.

        1. They had always shown that. That doesn’t even make any sense. Time will tell. But if the mandate goes down are you prepared to admit that you were full of shit and this was a dopey conspiracy theory?

          1. That’s revisionist, the ‘first’ fundamentalists (in the ’60s – ’70s) didn’t give a crap about America.

            If they just strike down the mandate, then no. But if they strike down the whole thing, then yes, I will admit to being full of shit.

            Hell I’ll admit it now, I mean it’s just, like, my opinion, man.

            1. I just think you have to give people the benefit of the doubt. I have no reason to believe that Sotomayor and Darth Bader are not acting sincerely here.

              1. I do give people the benefit of the doubt. And then they become statists and take that doubt away.

                Every. Single. Time.

            2. the ‘first’ fundamentalists (in the ’60s – ’70s) didn’t give a crap about America.

              Uhh, wait, didn’t one of the guys who was responsible for the resurgance of Muslim fundamentalism in the ’60s do so, in part, as a reaction to his experience as a college student in Colorado in the 50s? Or am I misremembering things again?

              1. It was the late 40’s and yes Sayyid Qutb is the great-grandaddy of modern radical Islamic ideology. He is also currently impaled on Satan’s spiked cock.

              2. Yes. Sayyid Qutb was outraged at the licentiousness he witnessed at a church dance in Greeley, Colorado circa 1948, where they played the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” We all know how small-town church dances in the ’40s were practically Sodom and Gomorrah.

      2. John, you are implying that the Nazgul have principles. hahahhahahahahahaaaa.

        1. OK, I may not agree with the comment, but the “Nazgul” label was pretty damned funny.

      3. I’m with John on this one. I haven’t read all the insider accounts on how SCOTUS works, but I don’t recall hearing about horse-trading on decisions, and I don’t think it really happens.

        1. You lawyers always stick together.

          1. I don’t think they horse trade at all. They might make shit up as they go along and try to fit a round peg of facts into a square hole of precedent, but I don’t think they horse trade.

  3. Clearly the Kochtopus at work!

    1. Sweet!!

  4. So the unions have to give non-members advanced notice AND get the non-member’s afimative consent before hand? Me likey.

    And god, can’t the Nazgul get rid of the passive voice?

  5. So I’m guessing that the lefties who hated the Citizens United ruling are relived at this decision to curtail corporate bodies’ ability to spend money on political advocacy.

    1. Tou-fucking-che

    2. tou-fucking-che

    3. Touche

    4. I’m guessing they’re not?

  6. SEIU can still force people to pay them for the privilege of working for the taxpayers of California.

    This is a victory, but as such it reminds me that what is still legal is far worse.

    1. Yes, it appears that the decision is too narrow. It apparently doesn’t outlaw the general practice of the government forcibly confiscating worker earnings for union dues. In this case, this practice is even more flagrantly immoral and unconstitutional since it includes NON-UNION workers. That’s just obscene.

      1. You don’t understand how the system works.

        There are no “non-union workers” in these jobs. SEIU forces everyone to pay, and everyone is subject to the union contract. One can choose not to join the union, but that just means he/she doesn’t get a membership card.

        There’s more to it than that, and to how the SEIU came to control these unions in California (they did not, until a few years back). None of it is pretty.

        But that’s the point: there are no non-union workers, in any real sense. This happens by force, and once the union has a vote, it’s in forever. Most of the people who voted to unionize California’s public employment are dead, and those who are alive are retired. Nobody working there voted. There’s a lot to this, as I said, and none of it is pretty.

        1. I think I do understand. If somebody has chosen not to join the union, they are a “non-union worker.” Being forced to pay union dues does not necessarily make them a union member. Again, this practice seems flagrantly immoral and unconstitutional. As you point out though, the distinction of being a “non-union worker” is meaningless if your earnings are confiscated and given to the union anyway. This is a clear violation of freedom of association under the First Amendment and arguably of property rights under the Fifth Amendment. It’s pure theft.

      2. From a moral standpoint, I completely disagree with compulsory unionism, especially in the public sector.

        However, it isn’t unconstitutional on the state level, and the Supreme Court is never going to rule that it is.

        The people need to continue working within their states to pass Right to Work laws, or if that’s impossible, just move to a Right to Work state and let the old dinosaurs become victims of the global economy and die. And that is exactly what’s happening.

    2. The FCC case will be the same thing. A very narrow victory on the facts. In that case, I assume the Nazgul didn’t get rid of the stupid Pacifica reasoning.

  7. So the best those non-union workers could do was ask for a refund.

    It would be a help in paying to fix their broken taillights.

  8. This decision was a no-brainer to begin with – the people paying union dues should be able to decide where their hard-earned money is spent, if at all.

    Notice the utter contempt SEIU has for non-union people, BTW.

  9. While it is encouraging that that a majority of the USSC made the clearly correct Constitutional decision, it is disturbing that the decision wasn’t unanimous. Two justices (Kagan and Breyer) inexplicably upheld this practice as Constitutional. That’s f’ing mind-boggling. Then again, it probably shouldn’t be surprising given the breath-taking stupidity routinely exhibited by multiple USSC Justices even when a majority makes the correct call. Even if the USSC correctly strikes down Obamacare, there will probably be at least 4 Justices who apparently do not believe in constitutionally limited government and will vote to uphold the law.

    1. It’s not so incredulous when you consider the heavy amounts of brain damage Kagan and Breyer deal with on a daily basis.

    2. Why is it inexplicable? Isn’t “dumb as shit” a reasonable explanation?

    3. It makes sense when you realize that they start with the assumption that unions cannot possibly violate somebody’s Constitutional rights, and then work backwards from there.

    4. 4/9 justices on the Supreme Court joined the dissent that said the existence of the 2nd amendment is meaningless in practice.

  10. What about members? Why is the decision limited to non-members? Don’t the same 1A principles apply regardless?

    1. I think members were already getting notice.

    2. I think members get to vote for their leadership and therefore have given implied consent.

      1. A vote for any candidate is a vote for whatever the winner wants to do. God bless democracy.

  11. Your dues opt in and then your dues opt out. You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself about.

  12. Lower your standards.

    7-2 is actually pretty good. 20% of Americans will believe just about anything, no matter how stupd, so it’s not surprising that 22% of justices can do the same thing.

    1. Given the screening process involved, one has a right to expect better results than exist in the general population. I certainly expect an MLB pitcher to throw faster than the average American.

      1. If you take into account the statist quo screening process, then 7-2 is even better.

        1. That’s true. I suppose a good question would be what we’re screening for.

  13. This will be spun as an outrageous inequality that prevents “workers” from speaking the way “corporations” now are able under Citizens United i.e. they will harp that other types of organizations don’t need to give ‘advance notice’ or get ‘permission’, all while sweeping the finer details of how different their ‘organization’ really is under the rug

    1. “Different” than, say, the Mafia?

  14. Looks like a good day for the First Amendment. Fox beat the FCC on the curse words regulations, too.

    1. Temporary reprieve. We’re still fucked.

      1. Mr. Fify, please submit your $50K fine to the FCC, Washington, DC. We’ll explain why later. Thank you.

        1. Let ’em send a SWAT team over to collect it.

    2. Agreed. It didn’t get worse, so that is good.


    Mitch Daniels quitting politics to become President of Purdue University. I am telling you, his wife left him for those few years and went to California with that guy because she was involved in some kinky things. And that is why he will never pursue national office.

    1. Do you mean like a DP or hot wax?

      1. I am thinking BDSM. Think about it. She left her kids. Women always win the custody battle. Why would a woman leave her small children? Because they are leaving to get into something they don’t want their kids to see.

        1. or a drug problem.

        2. Some women have no maternal instinct. None. It’s rare, but they’re out there.

          1. True. But she came back. So clearly she has some maternal instinct. It may have been drugs. But it was some kind of alternative lifestyle she didn’t want her kids around. If she had just been a no good mother, she never would have come back. My guess is she went burned out on whatever the alternative lifestyle was and came home.

            Daniels has always been so secretive about it. And he has avoided running for national office. That tells me there is more to it than she just had a mid life crises and left for a bit.

            1. We’ve discussed this extensively around teh house. It also seems that one of the reasons he won’t run for national office is because she has flat-out told him she’d leave and not come back. She apparently wants nothing to do with the DC lifestyle, which I can’t blame her for.

              1. I can’t blame her either. You have to respect her for that. I see a lot less problem with her wanting get her groove on in a collar for a few years than I do with the typical craven power seeker.

              2. She may have been kinky but wanting nothing to do with DC says she is perfectly sane.

    2. The next Jack Ryan.

    3. cuckolding… that’s my guess.

    4. And Obama is pissed because, this election, he won’t be able to un-seal divorce records of his opponent to help The Cause.

  16. I imagine Tony will be along soon to splutter that unions have a right to that money…because…because…fuck you that’s why!

    1. It is the one context that liberals see a problem with free riders. Funny that.

  17. Alito makes it pretty clear from the quoted passage that he’d get rid of closed shops altogether if he had the votes. Maybe someday…

  18. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, filed a concurring opinion in this case, ruling against the union on narrower grounds.

    Sometimes it is nice to point out that Sotomayor is actually better then David Souter whom she replaced.

  19. I guess I’ll be the contrarian again.

    This ruling seems somewhat backwards to me – maybe it’s just not being explained well. The First Amendment implies freedom from government interference, not freedom from bad internal union policies. While I find all laws forcing union membership to work in an industry to be a violation of freedom of association, in this case I’m not seeing how the union’s non-fraudulent actions violate First Amendment rights. If anything the Court’s interference in internal union policy seems like the real First Amendment violation.

    If the employer is forcing non-union members to pay the union, it seems that would have to be a condition of their voluntary employment contract. That sucks, but if the worker doesn’t like their employment contract, they can quit and change jobs. I’m not disagreeing the union and employer are wrong to force non-members to pay for the union’s political actions, but why should the government interfere and what does it have to do with the worker’s freedoms of speech, association, right to petition, etc.?

    1. There’s contrarian, and there’s fucking stupid. You just went full retard.

  20. Addendum, because fucking squirrels…

    The job of government is protect individual rights. That’s what they’re for. If an employer really wants a closed shop, fine. But that’s not what’s happening here. Not even close.

    Obviously I’d prefer a truly laissez faire labor market. But this is better then it was. If you don’t want to be in the union, no one should be able to force you to pay the union dues.

  21. Given the fact that unions significant financial impact on elections (, leads usually directly to unsustainable contracts (, this is probably a good decision. We’ve seen entire states pushed to the precipice of insolvency because of these types of contracts (, and really it seems union members are tired of seeing their union dues used in this fashion. In Wisconsin we saw 38% of union households in the state vote for Walker ( It’s clear many want to see a change.

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