Two Mahoning Valley natives involved in SCOTUS case
By Jordyn Grzelewski
When the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a landmark decision on labor rights last month, two Mahoning Valley natives were front and center.
Attorneys Jacob Huebert and Bill Messenger represented plaintiff Mark Janus in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, with the court ultimately siding with Janus’ argument that it is unconstitutional to require nonunion members to pay public-sector union fees to cover the costs of collective bargaining.
Messenger, a staff attorney for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, argued the case before the Supreme Court. He was joined on the case by Huebert, director of litigation at the Liberty Justice Center.
In addition to their shared work on behalf of right-to-work laws, the two attorneys found they had something else in common: Both grew up in the Mahoning Valley.
“Two people around the same age, from the same place, ended up going to the Supreme Court together and winning this case,” Huebert said.
Huebert, 39, who now lives in Chicago, grew up in North Lima and graduated from South Range High School in 1997. He went on to graduate from Grove City College, then from the University of Chicago Law School.
Huebert started his legal career working as a clerk for Judge Deborah L. Cook of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Cincinnati. He then practiced law in Columbus before joining the Liberty Justice Center in Chicago in 2011.
Messenger grew up on the West Side of Youngstown and graduated from Chaney High School in 1993.
He attended Ohio University, then graduated from George Washington University Law School in 2001.
Messenger has been working for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation since then and has now brought three cases to the nation’s highest court.
“It’s a privilege and an honor to be able to argue before the Supreme Court. I’ve done it before, but it never gets old,” he said. “It’s quite the experience. It’s what every lawyer dreams of.”
Janus, an employee at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, argued the requirement to pay union fees as a condition of his employment violated his First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of association.
On June 27, the court ruled 5-4 that nonunion workers cannot be forced to pay fees to public-sector unions.
Both Huebert and Messenger said the issue is one about which they and their organizations are passionate.
“I feel strongly about eliminating legal privileges in general and protecting constitutional rights in general, and this was a way people’s First Amendment rights were being violated in a massive way across the country,” Huebert said. “This win is great because it gives all of those people a choice.”
“The Right to Work foundation, this is the core of our mission, which is to give workers the right to freely choose whether they want to support a union,” Messenger said. “So this decision that public-sector workers have that right to choose was an accomplishment of a very key goal, both for the foundation and myself.”
In terms of a professional accomplishment, Huebert said it will difficult to top.
“It’s great to have had the experience,” he said.
Both Messenger and Huebert said they still have connections to the Valley, with family members who live in the area.
“Youngstown is still home,” Messenger said.