Supreme Court Deadlocks on Buena Park Teacher’s Union Fees Challenge

With Justice Antonin Scalia dropping dead earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked yesterday on Friedrichs v CTA, a legal threat to public unions coming out of OC. Scalia’s body had barely stiffened and turned cold when analysts predicated the case would dissolve in a tie—just as it did.

Lead plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs, a San Clemente resident and teacher in Buena Park’s Savanna School District and Scariest People 2015 inductee, seemed poised to strike a blow against the California Teachers Association when the case reached the Supreme Court in January. Backed by the Center for Individual Rights, Friedrichs and nine other California teachers brought suit against the CTA alleging that mandatory fair-share fees violated the First Amendment. Three of them, KPCC reports, are from OC like Friedrichs. 

Though any teacher can already opt-out of paying union dues that go towards political activities, the case argued that public union collective bargaining is inherently political because the employer is the government. And since teachers must pay “agency fees” to fund that work, doing so fouls up their freedom of speech.
A ruling in favor of Friedrichs would have devastated California’s public sector unions, a bastion of strength in an otherwise anemic labor movement. The Supreme Court split yesterday affirms a lower court’s decision to uphold their 1977 Abood v.  Detroit Board of Education legal precedent. The Center for Individual Rights, with ties to wealthy conservatives like the Koch Brothers, asked the highest court in the land for an Abood overturn. 

Though Friedrichs is foiled for now, the battle is far from over. The Center for Individual Rights intends to file a petition for a re-hearing with the Supreme Court. Whoever ends up replacing Justice Scalia will more than likely hold the fate of public unions in their hands. 

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