After Supreme Court Split, Challengers To Public Union Fees Want Case Re-Heard

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In March, an evenly divided U.S. Supreme Court issued a one-sentence non-decision in a controversial case involving compulsory fees for public unions. The challengers in that case have petitioned the court to re-hear arguments — after a ninth justice is eventually appointed.

The case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, involves public school teachers in California who believe their First Amendment rights are being violated by being compelled to pay union fees, regardless of whether or not they actively participate in the union.

Under this so-called “agency shop” model, California state law requires that the non-union teachers pay fees to cover expenditures germane to collective bargaining. Opponents claim this is problematic because not every teacher may believe that a union’s bargaining agreements are ultimately to their benefit.

Another issue is the collection of union fees that go toward things other than collective bargaining. In California, the teachers can opt out of subsidizing these additional expenditures, but they must raise their objection in writing and renew it every year.

Some 20 other states have similar laws regarding compulsory public unions, so a SCOTUS ruling would have far-reaching implications for millions of Americans.

When the case was heard by the nine justices in early 2016, it seemed destined for a narrow 5-4 decision, with Justice Antonin Scalia clearly leaning toward shooting down the compulsory fee laws.

But then Scalia passed away in February, and the resulting evenly split order left open the door for the petitioners to seek a re-hearing, which they did today.

“The Questions Presented in this case are too important to leave unsettled with an affirmance by an equally divided Court,” reads the petition [PDF] for a re-hearing, “and they are guaranteed to recur in the absence of a definitive ruling from this Court.”

Importantly, the petition doesn’t just ask for SCOTUS to re-hear the case, but to re-hear it “after it obtains a full complement of Justices capable of reaching resolution by a five-Justice majority.”

While it’s indeed rare for SCOTUS to grant a re-hearing, the petition cites a number of cases that have been granted a second chance because of an even split among the justices — including a handful of cases that were not heard until the following term.

“The current vacancy will inevitably be filled, and once it is, the tie will be broken,” reads the petition, which argues that it would more expeditious to re-hear this case — given that the eight sitting justices are already familiar with it — than wait for the next similar dispute to work its way through the legal system.

President Obama has nominated Circuit Court judge Merrick Garland to fill the seat left empty by Scalia’s passing, but Senate Republicans have vowed to not hold confirmation hearings for any nominee put forth by the current administration. However, some reports have indicated that the Senate may consider Garland if they believe the next President will nominate a less-appealing candidate.

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