Try to drown out the noise, the yelling and screaming coming from both the right and the left.
Try to ignore the fingerpointing and the political posturing.
Simply look at the facts of the case. Because at its essence, Janus vs. AFSCME is about one simple question: Are Mark Janus’ First Amendment rights being violated because his employer, the state of Illinois, requires him to to pay a fee to the American Federal of State, County and Municipal employees union as a condition of his employment?
WASHINGTON — With the justice holding the decisive vote silent, a divided Supreme Court sparred Monday over a case that could undermine the fi…
Janus doesn’t want to pay it. But to keep his job, he must.
It’s not an income tax that helps to pay for needed government services.
It’s not a health or dental insurance premium, withheld from his paycheck by his choice to match what his employer contributes to his health care plan.
It’s a mandated fee to a private political organization that, in addition to representing its members and nonmembers in contract negotiations with their employers, participates in political activity including making campaign donations and endorsements in political races, primarily to Democrats.
Janus disagrees with AFSCME’s politics and doesn’t want the agency representing him.
The union, for example, has been involved in a yearslong contract dispute with Gov. Bruce Rauner. The union is demanding wage and benefit increases that would cost the state $3 billion over four years.
Illinois is broke and its taxpayers already pay the highest combined local and state taxes in the country. Janus has said the union is being unreasonable, and he believes he shouldn’t have to pay it to make such unreasonable, taxpayer-unfriendly demands.
But in 1977 in Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such fees were constitutional as long as the fee money went to exclusively pay for unions’ representation of workers with their employers and not their political activities. It was the “fair share” that workers had to pay for the unions’ representation on matters such as salaries, benefits and work environment.
The rule has stood as case law ever since.
But, sometimes, the Supreme Court gets it wrong.
Justice Samuel Alito thinks it did in Abood. While reviewing a separate union-related case a few years ago, Alito said as much in a written opinion, opening the door for Janus’ challenge and others like it.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution grants Americans certain liberties. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. The right to practice whichever religion you want. The right to assemble and petition the government.
The right to assemble has been broadly interpreted to include the rights of Americans to associate, "peaceably," with whomever they want. That also includes the rights of Americans to not associate with those whom they don't want.
By taking a portion of his paycheck against his will, Janus argues he is being forced to associate with a union whose policies he doesn't support.
Let’s face it. AFSCME is a political organization. While it maintains it doesn’t use user fees from nonmembers to pay for its political operations, that doesn’t mean the money contributed by nonsupporters like Janus doesn’t free up other cash to further its political cause.
Of course it does.
Directly or indirectly, Janus is being forced to financially contribute to politics that he opposes.
Labor advocates maintain that the Janus case is a conspiracy by wealthy, far right-wingers to diminish the power of unions. If Janus and others like him — the outcome of the case will affect more than 5 million workers in 24 states — are no longer forced to pay union fees if they don't want to, public employee unions will lose millions of dollars annually, they argue.
Maybe that's the case. I don't know.
But in the end it doesn't matter.
The question before the court isn't, "Will eliminating forced union fees diminish the wealth and power of public employee unions?"
The question is: "Are forced union fees a violation of Janus' First Amendment rights against forced association?"
The simple answer to that is yes.