THIS Tuesday’s 4-4 deadlock in the US Supreme Court shows that the liberals now have the inniative over the conservatives in the US justice system. The result this week was brought about by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia involved the case brought by the public –school teachers who chose not to join unions and objected to paying for the unions’ collective bargaining activities of their behalf.
The ruling that went in favour of the teachers’ union would have affected millions of government workers and weakened the unions in the public sector. Thus the unions would have stood to lose affiliation fees both from workers who opposed the stand the unions took and from those who just wanted not to join a union while benefitting from the unions’ efforts on their behalf.
In 2014, the court stopped just short of overruling a foundational 1977 decision and declaring that government workers who choose not to join unions may not be forced to pay fees in lieu of dues.
In the 1977 decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court made a distinction between two kinds of compelled payments. Forcing non-members to pay for a union’s political activities violated the First Amendment, the court said. Yet, it was constitutional, the court added, to require non-members to help pay for the union’s collective bargaining efforts to prevent ‘freeloading’ and ensure ‘labour peace’.
The result of 4-4 means that the decision remains open and could be returned to the court in the near future.