[This post was updated at 12:48 p.m. to include more thorough discussions of Byrd v. United States, McCoy v. Louisiana, Rosales-Mireles v. United States, Hall v. Hall and the trio of cases consolidated under Dalmazzi v. United States.]
This morning the Supreme Court issued orders from its September 25 conference, adding 11 new cases (for a total of nine additional hours of argument) to its merits docket for the term. The highest-profile grant came in Janus v. American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees, a challenge to the fees paid by public-sector employees who are not members of the union that represents them. The justices have already considered the question presented by the case twice without resolving it, but are almost certain to do so during this go-round – with potentially serious implications for the union.
When the justices review the case of Mark Janus, an Illinois state employee, they will not necessarily be writing on a blank slate. In 1977, in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled that, even if they cannot be required to pay fees that a union would use for political activity, like union organizing, public-sector employees can be required to pay a fee to cover the costs of contract negotiations. But Janus argued that even requiring him to pay the more limited fee violates his First Amendment rights because issues related to contract negotiations – like salaries, pensions and benefits for government employees – are inherently political. Therefore, he contends, his fee is going to support speech that is intended to affect the government’s policies, even if he disagrees with it. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit rejected Janus’ argument, holding that it lacked the power to overrule the Supreme Court’s decision in Abood. But, Janus told the justices in his petition for review, they do have that power and should exercise it here.
The justices did not reach the union-fees issue…