On the heels of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s victory over organized labor last month, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a further blow to union politicking on Thursday, ruling that unions may not arbitrarily run up a tab for political lobbying and expect members to pay for it later.
The Supreme Court held by a 7-2 vote in Knox v. Service Employees that unions must give nonmembers an immediate chance to object to unexpected fee increases or special assessments that all workers are required to pay.
The case was brought by Dianne Knox and other nonmembers of the Service Employees International Union's Local 1000, who wanted to object and opt out of a $12 million special assessment the union required from its California public sector members for political campaigning.
“This is a huge decision — a real spank to the unions that they can’t just spend money,” GOP political strategist Bradley A. Blakeman tells Newsmax. “Basically, the court’s saying ‘you don’t have a blank check for political purposes.’”
The Romney campaign also released a statement praising Thursday’s decision.
“Once upon a time, it was unions that were protecting employee rights. Sadly, employees today must turn to the Supreme Court to protect them from those same unions,” declared Domestic Policy Director Oren Cass.
“While President Obama continues to support policies like Card Check that would force employees into unions against their will, Gov. Romney has laid out a comprehensive labor reform agenda that will restore power to workers and let them choose whether to unionize and whether to spend their hard-earned wages on union political campaigns,” Cass said.
Blakeman, a Newsmax contributor, who was a senior member in the last Bush administration, views the decision as an attempt to rein in free-spending unions, which are steel reeling from Walker’s victory in a special recall election earlier this month over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
The effort to remove Walker from office began last year after the state divided over the governor's push to effectively end collective bargaining for most public workers in an attempt to control the state budget.
“The unions are just shooting themselves in the foot,” declared Blakeman, a professor of public policy, politics, and international affairs at Georgetown University who appears regularly on Fox News. “The court now has ruled going forward that you can’t just send a bill to your members for political activity.”
In deciding for Knox, Justice Samuel Alito wrote: "When a public-sector union imposes a special assessment or dues increase, the union must provide a fresh . . . notice and may not exact any funds from nonmembers without their affirmative consent.”
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed with the judgment but wrote their own opinion. "When a public-sector union imposes a special assessment intended to fund solely political lobbying efforts, the First Amendment requires that the union provide non-members an opportunity to opt out of the contribution of funds," Sotomayor wrote.
But Sotomayor and Ginsburg said they did not join in the majority opinion that the First Amendment requires an opt-in system for other circumstances like "the levying of a special assessment or dues increase."
Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan dissented from the opinion. "If the union's basic administrative system does not violate the Constitution, then how could its special assessment have done so?" Breyer said.
But Breyer agreed with Sotomayor on the court's decision to expand the decision beyond special political assessments. "No party has asked that we do so," he explained.
"The matter has not been fully argued in this court or in the courts below," added Breyer, who read his dissent aloud.
Alito said there is "no merit" to Breyer's and Sotomayor's complaints.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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