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Quote of the Day: Taxpayer Privacy and IRS Abuse

At CFIF, the issue of improving taxpayer privacy and protection against persistent abuse by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) remains among our most important missions.  Among the abuses that we've chronicled is the case of convicted criminal Charles Littlejohn, who rejoined the IRS in 2017 with the specific purpose of illegally breaching and leaking the private tax returns of Donald Trump and other Americans to radical left-wing organizations like ProPublica.

In The Wall Street Journal this week, one of those victims speaks out on his own experience and the need for greater taxpayer protection against this recurring problem that should terrify all Americans of every political persuasion.  Ira Stoll, whose tax information was passed to ProPublica, even helpfully details how…[more]

May 29, 2024 • 11:28 AM

Liberty Update

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A First Amendment Reckoning for Teachers Unions Print
By Ben Boychuk
Thursday, January 14 2016
The CTA isn’t supposed to use collective bargaining fees for political purposes. But Friedrichs point is that collective bargaining is politics.

If the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of association means anything at all, it should mean the freedom not to associate. If we respect freedom of speech, Americans should reject any compulsion whatsoever in political speech. And if the government is going to force you to do something, it better have an awfully good reason for it.

Freedom of speech and association are at the core of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which challenges public-employee unions’ right to collect “agency shop fees” for collective bargaining purposes. Rebecca Friedrichs, an elementary school teacher from Orange County, California, and nine other plaintiffs argue that their union’s collective bargaining demands are really just another type of political speech, and they shouldn’t be compelled to pay to support it.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments in Friedrichs in an unusual session that pitted the plaintiff’s attorney against lawyers from the CTA, the state of California and the U.S. Justice Department.

In its brief for Friedrichs, lawyers for the Center for Individual Rights contend that California runs the “largest regime of compelled political speech in the Nation” by requiring teachers to pay about 2 percent of their pay — upwards of $1,000 a year — in those agency fees, whether they like it or not.

The CTA isn’t supposed to use collective bargaining fees for political purposes. But Friedrichs point is that collective bargaining is politics.

CIR attorney Michael Carvin fended off queries from the court’s liberal bloc, asking him why they should overturn a four decade-old precedent in this case.

In 1977, the high court ruled in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that the First Amendment protected non-union members from being forced to pay for a union’s political activities, but that they could be compelled to pay for other activities, notably collective bargaining costs. In California and other states without right-to-work laws, unions must give non-members a chance to opt out of paying for political activities, though they have never made it easy.

At one point, Justice Elena Kagan demanded, “What special justification are you offering here” to overturn Abood? Carvin replied that “the right of the citizen not to be subjected to unconstitutional treatment outweighs any reliance or predictability interests of stare decisis.” He might have simply said, “The First Amendment, your honor.” In any event, Kagan was unmoved. “Your answer is essentially you don’t need a special justification if” the first decision denied a constitutional right?

Well, yes. Shouldn’t that be obvious?

There is rich irony in witnessing self-styled progressives struggle to defend the status quo. But Abood was an anomalous case in some respects, and the court’s more conservative justices have lately begun to question whether it holds up.

Two years ago in Harris v. Quinn, a 5-4 majority led by Justice Samuel Alito appeared to lay the groundwork for a favorable decision in Friedrichs. In that case, the court drew a distinction between quasi-government workers such as home healthcare workers and “full-fledged” public employees (like teachers) who were required to pay fees under Abood.

Abood failed to appreciate the conceptual difficulty of distinguishing in public-sector cases between union expenditures that are made for collective-bargaining purposes and those that are made to achieve political ends,” Alito wrote. “In the private sector, the line is easier to see. Collective bargaining concerns the union’s dealings with the employer; political advocacy and lobbying are directed at the government. But in the public sector, both collective bargaining and political advocacy and lobbying are directed at the government.”

Alito was echoing the words of Justice Louis Powell, who in his concurring opinion in Abood actually anticipated Friedrichs’ argument. “Collective bargaining in the public sector is ‘political’ in any meaningful sense of the word,” Powell wrote. “This is most obvious when public-sector bargaining extends . . . to such matters of public policy as the educational philosophy that will inform the high school curriculum. But it is also true when public-sector bargaining focuses on such ‘bread and butter’ issues as wages, hours, vacations, and pensions.”

It’s hard to imagine the court sustaining Abood if the justices simply follow their own logic. A victory for Friedrichs would be a long overdue comeuppance for the teachers unions — and a vindication of the First Amendment rightly understood.


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