Divided Supreme Court spars over union fees
With one justice holding the decisive vote silent, a divided Supreme Court sparred Monday over a case that could undermine the financial footing of labor unions that represent government workers.
The justices heard arguments in a challenge to an Illinois law that allows unions representing government employees to collect fees from workers who choose not to join.
Amid colorful, occasionally angry comments from his colleagues, Justice Neil Gorsuch asked no questions in the hourlong session.
The court split 4-4 the last time it considered the issue in 2016 after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Gorsuch joined the court in April and has yet to weigh in on union fees. Organized labor is a big supporter of Democratic candidates and interests. Unions strongly opposed Gorsuch’s nomination by President Donald Trump.
The unions say the outcome could affect more than 5 million government workers in 24 states and the District of Columbia.
In many respects, Monday’s arguments were a replay of what happened in 2016, when the court took up so-called fair share fees and appeared to be ready to overrule a 1997 high-court decision that serves as their legal foundation.
“You’re basically arguing, do away with unions,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor told William Messenger, a lawyer with the National Right to Work Legal Foundation. The group is representing Illinois worker Mark Janus in his Supreme Court challenge.
On the other side, Justice Anthony Kennedy scoffed at labor’s argument that there is a difference between collective bargaining over government employees’ pay and benefits, and unions’ political activities, which nonmembers do not have to support.