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Guest post, “Harris v. Quinn: A Win for Workers’ First Amendment Rights”

Cross-posted from Cato at Liberty, a guest post from my Cato colleague Andrew Grossman:

Enough is enough, the Supreme Court ruled today in Harris v. Quinn regarding the power of government to force public employees to associate with a labor union and pay for its speech. Although the Court did not overturn its 1977 precedent, Abood, allowing states to make their workers contribute to labor unions, it declined to extend that principle to reach recipients of state subsidies—in this case, home-care workers who receive modest stipends from the state of Illinois’ Medicaid program but are not properly considered “employees” of the state.

The Court is right that Abood is “something of an anomaly” because it sacrifices public workers’ First Amendment rights of speech and association to avoid their “free-riding” on the dues of workers who’ve chosen to join a union, the kind of thing that rarely if ever is sufficient to overcome First Amendment objections. But Abood treated that issue as already decided by prior cases, which the Harris Court recognizes it was not–a point discussed at length in Cato’s amicus briefAbood was a serious mistake, Harris concludes, because public-sector union speech on “core issues such as wages, pensions, and benefits are important political issues” and cannot be distinguished from other political speech, which is due the First Amendment’s strongest protection. A ruling along those lines would spell the end of compulsory support of public-sector unions, a major source of funds and their clout.

It was enough, however, in Harris for the Court to decline Illinois’ invitation “to approve a very substantial expansion of Abood’s reach.” Illinois claimed that home-care workers were public employees for one purpose only: collective bargaining. But these workers were not hired or fired by the state, supervised by the state, given benefits by the state, or otherwise treated as state workers. And for that reason, Abood’s purposes, which relate only to actual “public employees,” simply do not apply. Were the law otherwise, the Court observed, “a host of workers who receive payments from a governmental entity for some sort of service would be candidates for inclusion within Abood’s reach.”

While Harris is not a watershed opinion that remakes labor law consistent with First Amendment principles, it does put an end to the forced unionization of home-based workers, a practice that has spread to nearly a dozen states and had provided a substantial number of new workers to the labor movement in recent years. Harris also lays the groundwork for a challenge to what it calls “Abood’s questionable foundations.” If recent Roberts Court precedents like Shelby County and Citizens United are any guide, Harris is a warning shot that the Abood regime is not long for this world and that the next case will be the one to vindicate all public workers’ First Amendment rights.

In January Andrew published a thorough preview of the issues of the case. Earlier coverage here.

High court grants cert in Harris v. Quinn

The Supreme Court yesterday granted certiorari in Harris v. Quinn, a case raising potentially major issues of federal labor law and forced political association. Via SCOTUSBlog:

Issue: (1) Whether a state may, consistent with the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, compel personal care providers to accept and financially support a private organization as their exclusive representative to petition the state for greater reimbursements from its Medicaid programs; and (2) whether the lower court erred in holding that the claims of providers in the Home Based Support Services Program are not ripe for judicial review.

My colleagues at the Cato Institute filed an amicus brief seeking cert in the case. More: Will Baude.

Hobby Lobby and Harris

I wrote two posts at Cato on yesterday’s major Supreme Court decisions:

* Why Harris v. Quinn is a bigger deal than Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores (spoiler: constitutional vs. statutory interpretation).

* if you like what today’s Supreme Court conservatives just did, thank yesterday’s liberals, and vice versa. By the way, I suspect the abortion buffer-zone cases also fit this pattern. For several decades (down through the 1990s, maybe?) liberals would have generally been the ones relatively sensitive to the rights of street protesters, while conservatives were relatively sensitive to the case for a legitimate police-power role in protecting property owners/tenants from ongoing sidewalk occupation that might deprive them of peaceful enjoyment of their premises.

Earlier on Hobby Lobby here, etc., and on Harris v. Quinn here, etc. Welcome readers from SCOTUSBlog, Steve Stanek/Heartland, etc. And Virginia Postrel makes the case for making contraception over-the-counter, which would largely remove employers from the equation while widening access greatly.

Supreme Court could revisit forced advocacy dues for public workers

A 1977 Supreme Court decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, upheld the constitutionality of forcing public employees to fund (through union dues) advocacy they might not like. More recently the Court has questioned the reasoning of Abood in Knox v. SEIU (2012) and Harris v. Quinn (2014), although the trend stalled in last year’s 4-4 split in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. Now the Court could revisit the issue by agreeing to review a Seventh Circuit case from Illinois, Janus v. AFSCME [Ilya Shapiro and Frank Garrison, Cato]

Supreme Court roundup

Oral argument in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association

On Jan. 11, the Supreme Court hears what may well be the most important case of the term. In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, 10 teachers have challenged a state requirement that they support political causes with which they disagree and that hurt their students.

At issue is a kind of law that exists in 25 states which forces public-sector workers either to join a union or pay an amount that covers the cost of the union’s collective bargaining. For California teachers, that means annual dues of about $1,000 or “agency fees” of about two-thirds that amount.

Ilya Shapiro and Jason Bedrick, Orange County Register. More: Shapiro and Jayme Weber, The Federalist; Richard Epstein, Robert Alt first, second (empirical evidence that unions can do well even when nonmembers not obliged to pay agency fees), third (stare decisis) posts, George Will. Earlier on Friedrichs and its predecessor cases Harris v. Quinn and Knox v. SEIU. A contrary view: New York Times editorial.

Supreme Court and constitutional law roundup

  • Supreme Court grants certiorari (as Cato had urged) in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, on First Amendment rights of individual public employees against unions, potentially major sequel to Harris v. Quinn (our coverage) and Knox v. SEIU (our coverage). More: Jason Bedrick, Cato;
  • More First Amendment: On same day, high court says Texas can turn down Confederate-flag license plates but that town of Gilbert, Ariz. impermissibly took content into account in regulating roadside signs [Lyle Denniston; Eugene Volokh on Gilbert and earlier, and on license plates] Ilya Shapiro has a wrap-up of other end-of-term cases;
  • Paging judicial-independence buffs: study finds Obama stands out for aggressive comments on pending SCOTUS cases [W$J via Jonathan Adler]
  • Abercrombie v. EEOC followup (earlier): If Thomas’s dissent has the courage of its convictions, maybe it’s because he was longest-serving chairman in EEOC history [Tamara Tabo] “SCOTUS requires employers to stereotype in ruling for EEOC in hijab-accommodation case” [Jon Hyman] Yes, employers can still have dress codes, but read on for the caveat [Daniel Schwartz]
  • “Illinois Uses Racial Preferences for No Good Reason,” Seventh Circuit take note [Ilya Shapiro and Julio Colomba, Cato]
  • Feds can refuse to register a “disparaging” trademark. Consistent with the First Amendment? [Shapiro, Cato]
  • More from Ilya Somin on anniversary of eminent domain Kelo v. New London decision [one, two, more]

Supreme Court roundup

  • In a new Cato podcast, I talk with Caleb Brown about the Court’s pending case on “disparate impact” liability in housing and finance, Texas Dept. of Housing vs. The Inclusive Communities Project [earlier, more]
  • Amicus briefs urge Court to recognize regulatory taking in raisin marketing order requisition case Horne v. Department of Agriculture [Trevor Burrus, Ilya Somin, earlier]
  • Organized campaign to disrupt Supreme Court sittings is sure to raise the concern of groups devoted to backing judicial independence. Right? [Orin Kerr, Legal Times, earlier on selective vision of some of the latter groups here, here, etc.]
  • Under the surface, routine decision in Perez indicates Justices’ changing attitudes toward Chevron, Auer, and agency deference in administrative law [Sasha Volokh]
  • Vong v. Aune, arising from Arizona cosmetology board ban on Asian “fish pedicure” techniques, could enable Court to examine economic rationality of regulation [Ilya Shapiro]
  • “Justices stick to middle of the road in Omnicare securities opinion” [Alison Frankel/Reuters, Bainbridge]
  • Sequel to Harris v. Quinn? In Center for Individual Rights’s Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case Court could revisit Abood question of public sector agency shop [On Labor, Larry Sand/City Journal]

Election open thread

Trial lawyer and inveterate Litigation Lobby booster Bruce Braley lost his Iowa senate bid (“He comes across as arrogant, and I think it’s because he is,” said an unnamed Democratic official.) Sen. Mark Pryor, chief Senate handler of the awful CPSIA law, lost big.

Massachusetts voters again rejected Martha Coakley, whose prosecutorial decisions we have found so hard to square with the interests of justice. The Wisconsin Blue Fist school of thought, which sees organized government employees as the natural and truly legitimate governing class, met with a rebuff from voters not only in Wisconsin itself but in neighboring Illinois (where Gov. Quinn, of Harris v. Quinn fame, went down to defeat) and elsewhere. Colorado voters rejected GMO labeling, while a similar Oregon bill was trailing narrowly this morning but not with enough votes to call.

California voters rejected Prop 46, to raise MICRA medical liability limits, require database use and impose drug testing of doctors, by a 67-33 margin, and also rejected Prop 45, intensifying insurance regulation, by a 60-40 margin (earlier).

I’ve written a lot at my Free State Notes blog about the governor’s race in my own state of Maryland, and unlike most others was not surprised at Larry Hogan’s stunning upset victory. The politics category there includes my letter to Washington Post-reading independents and moderates about why they should feel comfortable electing Hogan as a balance to the state’s heavily Democratic legislature, as well as my parody song about what I thought a revealing gaffe by Hogan’s opponent, Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown.