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Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, et al.

Citation. 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Respondents challenged the Illinois law that forces public employees to subsidize a union, even if they choose not to join and strongly object to the positions the union takes in collective bargaining and related activities.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Compelling individuals to mouth support for views they find objectionable violates the Constitution’s free speech right and any such effort would be universally condemned.


Under the Illinois Public Relations Act, employees of the State and its political subdivisions are permitted to unionize. If a majority of the employees in a bargaining unit vote to be represented by a union, that union is designated as the exclusive representative of all the employees. Employees in the unit are not obligated to join the union selected by their co-workers. But whether they join or not, that union is deemed to be their sole representative. Only a union may negotiate with the employer on matters relating to pay, wages and hours. Employees who decline to join the union are not assessed full union dues but must instead pay an agency fee, which amounts to a percentage of the union dues. Petitioner Janus, a public employee in Illinois, refused to join the union because he opposes many of the public policy positions taken by the union. If he had the choice, he would pay any fees or subsidize the union. However, he was required to pay an agency fee monthly under his unit’s collective-bargaining agreement.


Does the Illinois law that forces public employees to subsidize a union, even if they choose not to join and strongly object to the positions the union takes in collective bargaining and related activities violate the Constitution?


Yes, the arrangement under the Illinois law violates the free speech rights of nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern. Whenever the Government or a State prevents individuals from saying what they think on important matters of compels them to voice ideas with which they disagree, it undermines the goals of the free speech right. Moreover, the State has failed to present a compelling interest that could justify restricting speech of individuals.


Justice Kagan

The majority overthrows a decision entrenched in this Nation’s law and in its economic life for over 40 years. Consequently, it prevents the American people, acting through their state and local officials, from making important choices about workplace governance. It does so by weaponizing the First Amendment, in a way that unleashes judges to intervene in economic and regulatory policy. Speech is everywhere and thus almost all economic and regulatory policy affects or touches speech. The First Amendment was meant for better things, and it was not meant to undermine but to protect democratic governance including over the role of public sector unions.


When speech is compelled, additional damage is done. Individuals are coerced into betraying their convictions. Forcing free and independent individuals to endorse ideas they find objectionable is always demeaning, and a law commanding involuntary affirmation of objected-to beliefs would require even more immediate and urgent grounds than a law demanding silence. Compelling a person to subsidize the speech of other private speakers raises similar First Amendment concerns. The Court has recognized that a significant impingement on First Amendment rights occurs when public employees are required to provide financial support for a union that takes may positions during collective bargaining that have powerful political and civic consequences.

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