It was literally moments after the news of Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death that people started to react to what the consequences would be. Included among them would be the outcome of the Friedrichs vs. California case that threatened to be a tremendous blow to public sector unions. Scalia was expected to be among the majority who would rule against unions in a 5-4 vote. The decision, in essence, would make the payment of union dues optional, while unions were still obligated to collectively bargain for those workers who were refusing to pay dues. Now, with Scalia’s death and the expectation that the GOP majority in the U.S. Senate will block any candidate who President Obama nominates as a replacement, the case will almost certainly have a 4-4 vote. In that case the decision of the lower court, which benefited the unions, will be upheld.
Public sector unions are saved, at least for now. After oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, it appeared likely that an ambitious effort to defund public sector unions would gain five votes on the Supreme Court. Now this effort only has four votes. Moreover, because the plaintiffs in this case lost in the court below, a decision affirming the lower court in an evenly divided vote is effectively a victory for organized workers.
Ironically, the plaintiff in the case, California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs, had asked for the lower district court and court of appeals to rule against her quickly, without trial or oral argument, in order to move the case along to the Supreme Court more expeditiously.
I’m sure we will get into more detail in the coming weeks about the case’s deeper implications for our members and teachers across the country.