Supreme Court

  • May 6, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Camilla Taylor, Counsel and Marriage Project National Director, Lambda Legal. Ms. Taylor is a member of the Advisory Board the Chicago Lawyer Chapter.

    *This post is part of ACSblog’s symposium on the consolidated marriage equality cases before the Supreme Court.

    As the four legal teams representing same-sex couples from Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Michigan left the Supreme Court after oral argument in Obergefell v. Hodges, we felt overwhelmed by the significance of the moment.  The Supreme Court is now poised in our combined cases to decide whether the Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the freedom to marry.  Many of us had worked toward this day for well over a decade or longer.

    A victory in Obergefell would be transformative. Our 

    struggle for the freedom to marry has always been about far more than marital protections; at its essence, our struggle is nothing less than a demand for formal recognition of our common humanity and of the legitimacy of all families.  A win for same-sex couples and their children will breathe new life into our country’s promise of liberty and equality.  Children of same-sex couples will be able to grow up free of government-imposed stigma, and with pride in themselves and in their families.  Lesbian and gay youth will be able to hold their heads higher, secure in the knowledge that they may form families worthy of equal respect in the eyes of their government.

    However, while a victory in Obergefell would be historic, it would not be the end, even for our marriage work.  A movement to secure civil rights is never finished by a Supreme Court ruling, no matter how important that ruling may be.

    As we have seen after past marriage court victories, states determined to discriminate do not simply give up.  Instead, for example, they fight to deny the children of same-sex spouses two-parent birth certificates.  Same-sex spouses who were precluded from marrying until recently, or whose marriages were denied recognition as a result of discriminatory state marriage bans, may still have to fight for crucial marital protections subject to a relationship duration requirement (such as social security benefits for a surviving spouse, which accrue only to those who were married for more than nine months under state law).

  • May 5, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Burt Neuborne, Norman Dorsen Professor of Civil Liberties at NYU School of Law.  His most recent book, “Madison’s Music: On Reading the First Amendment” (The New Press 2015), argues that effective campaign finance regulation is fully consistent with the First Amendment.

    Florida’s ban on personal solicitation of campaign funds by candidates for judicial office recently survived a free speech challenge because, in Chief Justice Roberts’ words, “judges are not politicians.”  I fear, however, that the chief justice’s bright-line distinction between “judges” and “politicians” understates the need for independent judgment by “politicians” and overstates the “political” neutrality of judges.

    Judges, especially elected judges, exercise “political” power. Does anyone doubt, for example, that the Supreme Court is exercising “political” power in the gay marriage cases? The chief justice is surely right, though, in recognizing that continued faith in our politically powerful judiciary turns on public confidence that elected judges are not merely engaged in advancing the narrow interests of powerful constituents or financial supporters.  That’s why the Williams-Yulee decision is correct. But the same may be said about faith in democracy itself. Legislators and executive officials cannot – and should not ‒ behave just like impartial judges. They should have close ties to the people who elected them. Their votes and official actions should generally reflect the self-interested preferences of their supporters.  But, as Edmund Burke taught us in his 1774 Address to the Electors of Bristol, there are important occasions in the life of a democracy when even a “politician” with close ties to her constituents should enjoy the appearance and reality of exercising independent judgment free from pressure by financial supporters. Chief Justice Roberts’ bright-line distinction between judges and “politicians” preserves an elected judge’s capacity for such Burkean independence, but obliterates it for legislators and executive officials.

    Instead of relying on a tyranny of labels, the Williams-Yulee opinion should trigger discussion of how best to free “politicians” as well as elected judges from the appearance and reality of excessive financial thralldom to their large financial supporters. Maybe then we can begin to rebuild faith in our democracy; hold real elections, not auctions; and insist that our “politicians” occasionally think for themselves.

  • May 5, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Bill Lurye, General Counsel, and Matt Stark Blumin, Associate General Counsel, at American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)

    On February 9, less than a month into his first term as governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner issued an executive order barring state employee unions from collecting fair share fees, thus unilaterally transforming Illinois into a right-to-work state for state employees.  He justified this extreme act by arguing that, in his opinion – though contrary to Supreme Court precedent dating to 1977 – such fees violate the First Amendment.  Rauner’s anti-union executive order is a blatantly illegal power grab, and unions have filed suit to overturn it.

    As is the case in many states, Illinois’ public sector labor relations statute expressly authorizes collective bargaining agreements allowing unions to collect fair share fees, and over 40,000 state employees are covered by collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) that include fair share fee provisions.  Yet, despite strong separation of powers language in the Illinois Constitution that prevents him from legislating, Governor Rauner has declared that he will not turn over any of the contractually owed fair share fees to unions, no matter what the duly enacted state labor law statute says.

    First, some background on fair share fees in Illinois.  Just like a private sector union under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), a public sector union under Illinois law is required to represent every employee in a unionized bargaining unit whether or not the employee is a member of the union.  This means that the unions have to do lots of costly work on behalf of nonmembers, like negotiating the CBA fairly on the nonmembers’ behalf and handling any grievances they have.  Fair share fees represent the cost to the union of providing those services to nonmembers, and nothing more.  (Members who pay full union dues additionally fund other work by the union, such as lobbying or political donations, that fair share fees don’t cover.)  As even Justice Scalia has recognized in his concurrence in Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association, fair share fees “allow the cost of . . . the union’s statutory duties to be fairly distributed; they compensate the union for benefits which ‘necessarily’ – that is, by law – accrue to the nonmembers.”

  • May 1, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Ann C. Hodges, Professor of Law, University of Richmond School of Law

    In a blog post following the Supreme Court’s decision last term in Harris v. Quinn, I predicted that the constitutionality of union fair share fees would soon be back at the Court. It took little prescience to make such a prediction and indeed, the plaintiffs in Friederichs v. California Teachers’ Association worked mightily to get the case on the Court’s docket as quickly as possible. The Court will decide whether to grant cert in the near future.

    Although this issue will no doubt return repeatedly to the Court, it should decline to hear the case. The 1977 decision of the Court in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education correctly concluded that fair share fees are constitutional, and the decision should not be disturbed. Abood allows the union to charge for its mandated representational duties, but not for political expenditures. In this context, the objectors’ first amendment interests are reduced and the interests of the government employer that has entered into an agreement with the union enhanced. Justice Alito suggested in Harris, however, that all union activity in the government sector implicates the highest first amendment interests. This is at odds with the Court’s cases on the first amendment interests of public employees following Abood.

    In recent years, the Court has held that the government has stronger interests in restraining speech when it acts as an employer. Accordingly, when employees speak pursuant to their job duties, their speech is unprotected. Additionally, when an employee’s speech is about an internal workplace grievance, it is similarly unprotected by the first amendment. It is precisely these grievances that the union is obliged to handle for all employees regardless of membership.  If speaking about the grievance is unprotected, why is compelling the unwilling employee to pay for this otherwise unprotected speech an interference with first amendment rights?  Further, Justice Alito’s Harris opinion suggests that when one employee asks for a raise, the speech is unprotected but when the union asks for a raise on behalf of all employees, it is high order political speech which the employee cannot be compelled to support.  As Justice Kagan pointed out in the Harris dissent, the fact that it takes more money to pay multiple employees does not transform the character of the speech when the substance, asking for a raise, is the same.

    There are many other reasons for the Court to deny cert. Abood has been settled law for almost 40 years, Justice Alito’s efforts notwithstanding. As Justice Kagan ably pointed out in Harris, principles of stare decisis, including the reliance interests of thousands of employers and unions and millions of employees, counsel restraint. Moreover, as I have argued in earlier posts, fair share agreements are an essential pillar of the system of labor relations that has served our country well for 80 years.  And finally, as pointed out in the opposition to cert, the record in this case has not been developed, as the plaintiffs rushed to accept Justice Alito’s invitation for an opportunity to overrule Abood.

  • April 30, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Justin Pidot, Assistant Professor, University of Denver Sturm College of Law; Member, Board of Directors, ACS Colorado Lawyer Chapter; Faculty Advisor, University of Denver Sturm College of Law ACS Student Chapter.

    With Michigan v. EPA, the Supreme Court continues its tradition of reviewing the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to regulate under the Clean Air Act. Last year, the Court considered, and partially invalidated, a rule regulating greenhouse gas emissions. This year, the Court considers a rule EPA issued to reduce mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from power plants ― which we have long recognized release significant amounts of heavy metals and other toxins into the air.

    In 1990, Congress gave EPA the task of studying hazardous emissions from power plants and deciding whether to regulate those emissions to protect public health. Twenty-five years later, EPA finally decided to take up this task. A coalition of states and industry groups challenged EPA’s regulation.

    The Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case brought by that coalition on March 25, 2015, and it will likely release a decision within about a month.  Several commenters, like Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog and Catherine O’Neill at CPRBlog, have suggested that the outcome is difficult to predict, although a slight majority of participants in “Fantasy SCOTUS,” a platform that allows individuals to predict the outcomes of Supreme Court cases, believe that EPA will win.

    After reading the transcript of the argument, I am left feeling pessimistic for EPA. While the outcome of the case is far from clear, my sense is that the power industry may continue to evade regulation for a while longer.