What Justice Scalia's Passing Means for Teachers

Setting aside the politics of replacing Justice Antonin Scalia after his unexpected death, what of the issues already before the court that may affect public education and beyond?

The biggest case, widely reported is Friedrichs v California Teachers. SCOTUS Blog describes the issue thusly

Issue: (1) Whether Abood v. Detroit Board of Education should be overruled and public-sector “agency shop” arrangements invalidated under the First Amendment; and (2) whether it violates the First Amendment to require that public employees affirmatively object to subsidizing nonchargeable speech by public-sector unions, rather than requiring that employees affirmatively consent to subsidizing such speech.
— http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/friedrichs-v-california-teachers-association/

Simply put, right wing billionaires bankrolled an attack on the rights of unions to charge fair share fees for representing all members in a public sector bargaining unit - such as teachers. Without the ability to charge fair share fees, non members could simply not pay anything but still benefit from the services of the union - everything from increased pay via bargaining to better benefits, safety and training.

It was widely expected that the Supreme Court with it's 5 conservative justices would rule 5-4 against decades of precedent and deal a blow to unions. With the death of one of those 5 conservative justices it is now believed that the court would be tied 4-4.

What are the implications of this?

  1. Votes that the Justice cast in cases that have not been publicly decided are void.  
  2. In a 4-4 case where there is no majority for a decision the lower court’s ruling stands, as if the Supreme Court had never heard the case
  3. The lower court ruled in favor of the unions (Ironically, something Friedrichs wanted so that the case could be expedited to the Supreme Court)

So as it stands right now, fair share, underpinned by the longstanding Abood decision remains the law of the land.

For this to continue to stand in the years to come, it will be important for supporters of strong unions and working people to ensure the replacement for Scalia supports the pillars of fairness that labor is built upon.