The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that public sector unions’ “agency fees” — fees required of nonmembers — violate the First Amendment
Justice Samuel Alito wrote the court’s 5-4 decision, split along ideological grounds.
The decision was a long time coming. In January 2016, the justices heard arguments on the issue — with the court appearing to be headed to a 5–4 ruling against the unions. Then, Justice Antonin Scalia died and the court split 4–4— a ruling that meant agency fees would still be allowed in the public sector for the time.
When Donald Trump won the election, however, conservatives who had been backing the effort to roll back public sector unions’ influence prepared to bring the question back to the high court once a fresh justice was confirmed. Trump celebrated the decision on Twitter.
The Supreme Court granted the case — brought by heed Janus against the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, in Illinois — in late September, once Justice Neil Gorsuch had joined the court, and heard arguments in February.
Although Gorsuch was at the arguments, he and Justice Clarence Thomas — who generally asks no questions at oral argument — were the only two silent justices for the hourlong arguments that had four different lawyers making their case for or against the agency fees.
Gorsuch on Wednesday if Alito — who has long sought the court’s ruling, to overrule a 1977 case that allowed the fees — with his needed fifth vote to resolve the issue.