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Janus v. AFSCME

Full name: Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Councl 31

Click here to read the decision

Samuel Alito
Neil Gorsuch
Anthony Kennedy
John G. Roberts
Clarence Thomas

Stephen Breyer
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Elena Kagan
Sonia Sotomayor

Note: Court justices do not represent any political party. The color of each judge's name represents the political party of the president who appointed the judge.

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What was this case about

The Supreme Court ruled that government employees cannot be required to pay money to a union - even if that union negotiated their pay and benefits.

How did this case originate

Illinois law states that government workers who don't want to join the union that negotiates their wages and benefits still must "pay their proportionate share of the costs of the collective bargaining process, contract administration and pursuing matters affecting wages, hours and other conditions of employment."

An Illinois state employee, Mark Janus, claimed he did not want to pay this fee, known as an agency fee.

Janus claimed he objected to the union's political activities - and requiring him to fund them was a violation of his free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

Though he only paid the required agency fee, he claimed to object to the benefits the union was bargaining for, claiming they did not respect the state's fiscal crises and were not in the best interests of Illinois citizens. Therefore he objected to paying the $535 annual fee.

Decision overturned 40-year precedent

In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that collective bargaining in the public sector is a public issue, because it is taxpayer money being used to pay for the employee benefits. Therefore, an employee cannot be required to financially support that activity through agency fees.

Alito also wrote that agency fees are not required for a union to perform its bargaining function. He cited the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) as an example, writing that USPS employees are represented by a union - yet they are not required to pay an agency fee.

In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the decision violated the principle of stare decisis - that a previous decision should not be overturned unless there's a compelling reason.

The 1977 decision Abood v. Detroit Board of Education ruled that agency fees are constitutional if they don't pay for "any of the union's political or ideological activities."

Kagan also wrote that previous Supreme Court decisions "have long made plain that government entities have substantial latitude to regulate their employees' speech - especially about terms of employment - in the interest of operating their workplaces effectively."

She added, "The First Amendment was meant for better things. It was meant not to undermine but to protect democratic governance - including over the role of public-sector unions."

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