Overshadowed by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy last week, the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Mun. Employees, Council 31 would have been the top story in most other weeks. Janus — a case where Justice Kennedy joined a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court — is a huge victory for those who value freedom of speech.
The crux of Janus is the argument that public employees should not be compelled to pay union dues when they do not want to be a member of the union. That notion seems simple enough. But, a 1977 Supreme Court case, Abood, held that if a union was designated as a collective bargaining agent, nonmembers can be required to pay dues to the union for the alleged benefit of the collective bargain.
Mark Janus, an Illinois state employee whose unit is represented by a public-sector union, refused to join the union because he opposed many of its positions and sued seeking to avoid subsidizing an organization with which he disagreed. Janus’ case was rejected by the trial court and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals citing the Abood case as precedent.
Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the Court in Janus, said, “Abood was wrongly decided and is now overruled.” In the opinion, Alito and his colleagues in the majority recognized the loss of revenue from nonmembers may require unions “to make adjustments in order to attract and retain members.” The Court found that a person’s freedom of speech, of association, and to not be required to support a group he opposes trumps the needs of unions for revenue.
This case does not significantly affect North Carolina because we do not have collective bargaining for state employees. But, the case is a major indicator that our individual liberties are still respected in a broader sense. Barry Goldwater once said, “Equality, rightly understood as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences; wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.”
As we celebrate our independence and remember the time when we dissolved the political bands of a government that had fundamentally failed its people, we should celebrate this decision that reminds us that we cannot be forced to conform our beliefs or abdicate our right to speak for ourselves.
Mr. Janus was portrayed as a free rider by the union who demanded a portion of his wages in support of a cause he opposed. The Supreme Court recognized Janus’ rejection of this label saying, “He argues that he is not a free rider on a bus headed for a destination that he wishes to reach but is more like a person shanghaied for an unwanted voyage.”
The Supreme Court has held in favor of our individual liberties in this case. Our Independence Day celebrations remind us that we once had to dissolve the political bands of a government that fundamentally failed its people. In this time of intentional crises and media-driven hysteria, the division of our people and even the likelihood of civil war are dominating our political narrative. With both sides of the aisle moving from disagreeing to being disagreeable, we should celebrate our differences and our God-given right to liberty. Last week, the Supreme Court gave us another reason to celebrate.
Neal Robbins is the publisher of the North State Journal.