How the media got the Janus decision wrong
In their stories on the Supreme Court’s historic Janus decision striking down compelled fees for non-union public employees to public-sector unions, the liberal media fumbled badly in reporting the basic reasoning behind the ruling.
The case, Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), involved Mark Janus, a non-union Illinois state employee, who said that the Illinois law that forced him to pay fees to AFSCME to bargain on his behalf violated his First Amendment free-speech rights since the issues negotiated are inherently political and thus force him to subsidize the political activities of a group he doesn’t support.
The key issue, therefore, was not about the union making political contributions to candidates that Janus did not support, but that collective bargaining involves public policies and is therefore unavoidably political.
Thus, forcing Janus to support collective bargaining with mandatory fees to the union violated his First Amendment right against compelled political speech. Yet, the liberal media failed to report this basic reason for Janus‘ lawsuit.
In its story on the decision, Reuters said that the Supreme Court majority had ruled against “so-called agency fees that are collected from millions of non-union workers in lieu of union dues to fund non-political activities like collective bargaining.” Wrong.
Again, the point of Janus‘ lawsuit was that collective bargaining is inherently political.
The New York Times’ reporting was just as bad.
The Times wrote that the majority’s ruling was “based on the First Amendment, saying that requiring payments to unions that negotiate with the government forces workers to endorse political messages that may be at odds with their beliefs.” The Times clarified what it meant by “political messages” by giving the union position to provide context.
“Unions say that reasoning is flawed,” noted The Times. “Nonmembers are already entitled to refunds of payments spent on political activities, like advertising to support a political candidate.”
Further, wrote The Times, “Collective bargaining is different, the unions say, and workers should not be free to reap the benefits of such bargaining without paying their fair share of the costs.”
The Times report never made it clear to its readers that the central issue of the case was Janus‘ argument that union collective bargaining is inherently political and that forcing non-union government employees to subsidize such activities is unconstitutional.
Justice Samuel Alito, who authored the majority opinion, cited the court’s previous 2012 decision in Knox v. Service Employees saying that the court had “recognized that a ‘significant infringement on First Amendment rights’ occurs when public employees are required to provide financial support for a union that ‘takes many positions during collective bargaining that have powerful political and civic consequences.’”
Further, speaking to the argument by unions and governments that workers should not reap the supposed benefits of collective bargaining without paying for it, Justice Alito said that reasoning is unconstitutional.
“The First Amendment,” he wrote, “does not permit the government to compel a person to pay for another party’s speech just because the government thinks that the speech furthers the interests of the person who does not want to pay.”
As for the court’s previous decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which permitted agency fees to subsidize collective bargaining, Alito said the Abood decision acknowledged, “the First Amendment prohibits the exaction of agency fees for political or ideological purposes.”
However, Justice Alito points out that in union collective bargaining with school districts, for instance, unions can speak out “on controversial subjects such as climate change, the Confederacy, sexual orientation and gender identity, evolution, and minority religions.” “These are sensitive political topics, and they are undoubtedly matters of profound ‘value and concern to the public.’”
Thus, collective bargaining is inherently political, Abood was decided wrongly, and the constitution clearly supports Mark Janus and his free speech arguments.
Of course, The New York Times and other liberal media failed to include these key portions of Justice Alito’s masterful opinion in their stories. Thus, while the court’s decision is a victory for individual freedom, the reporting on it shows why the public distrusts the mainstream media.