The Supreme Court announced on Monday that it will not hear a bloc of several cases that threatened to impose dire financial penalties on public sector unions. The cases all involved unions that charged fees to non-members that were legal at the time the unions collected those fees, but were later declared illegal by the Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME (2018) (we’ll call that case “Janus I”).
It’s easy to overread the significance of the Court’s decision not to hear a particular case. When the Court denies review of a lower court’s decision, that does not necessarily mean that a majority of the Court agreed with that decision.
Nevertheless, the anti-union cases that the Court decided not to hear on Monday were only the most recent in a train of cases targeting the finances of public sector unions. The Court’s decision to turn these latest cases aside suggests that, even with a 6-3 Republican majority, a majority of the justices believe they have done enough to prevent unions from collecting fees that the Court’s right flank finds objectionable.
The arguments presented by the plaintiffs in these cases, one of which was a continuation of the Janus case itself (we’ll call that one “Janus II”), were quite radical. As a federal appeals court explained in one of these cases, “the Rule of Law requires that parties abide by, and be able to rely on, what the law is,” not what the law may become in the future.
And yet the plaintiffs in these cases sought to impose potentially debilitating financial consequences on unions that complied with the law — only to have the Supreme Court change the law after the unions complied with it.