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Supreme Court denies rehearing in teacher union dues collection case

The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a petition for rehearing in a much-watched case over mandatory dues collection for public-sector unions nationwide.

The court, in one of the final acts of the current term, declined to approve a full-panel rehearing in the case of Friedrichs vs California Teachers Association. The latest decision by the court came after it issued a 4-4 split decision in March, marking a win for unions as it let stand a previous decision rendered by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in their favor.

Supporters of the nine teachers who brought the lawsuit, and who had sought the rehearing, decried the 4-4 split, noting that the court issued it with just one sentence and offered no guidance on the merits of the arguments in the case. Their frustration came after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, whose vote likely would have broken the tie, and thus the request for a rehearing before a full 9-justice panel.

Attorney Terry Pell of the Center for Individual Rights, which represented the plaintiffs, said he was "disappointed" that the case was over.

"(The) decision was not a decision on the merits of our case; nor was it accompanied by an opinion. We continue to believe that forcing individuals to subsidize political speech with which they disagree violates the First Amendment," Pell said in a statement. "We will look for opportunities to challenge compulsory union dues laws in other cases and continue our efforts to stand up for the rights of teachers and public sector workers across the country.”

The decision was seen as an enormous win for public sector unions, which would have been wounded financially if the collection of agency fees were eliminated. Until another case makes it way before the high court, the mandatory fees rule remains intact.

Plaintiffs in Friedrichs sought to overturn the mandatory dues collection, which became law in a precedent case from 1977, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. Attorneys had argued that forcing teachers to pay union dues was akin to compelling political speech.

Lead plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs, who has served as an elementary school teacher in California for 29 years, said that it was the students and families most harmed by the court's decision.

"My heart is broken for America’s children and families, as their teachers will continue to be forced to fund policies and highly political collective bargaining processes, which place the desires of adults above the rights and needs of children," Friedrichs said in a statement.

"I am grateful to the thousands of teachers and parents who have stood beside my fellow plaintiffs and me. We have accomplished much and brought national attention to an issue that strikes at the heart of every American’s right to free speech," she added. "This battle for liberty cannot be abandoned, and we’ve built an incredible network, so I’m optimistic we can continue working together to restore First Amendment rights to teachers and other public sector workers. Our kids are worth the fight."

The National Right to Work Foundation also weighed in, saying that the case, while over for the Friedrichs plaintiffs, is not likely to end debate on the issue.

“While we are disappointed that Rebecca Friedrichs’ case will not be the one to end mandatory union dues for America’s public servants, the fight taken up by Rebecca and her co-plaintiffs has not ended today,” said Mark Mix, president of the NRWF, in a statement. “The 4-4 split in Friedrichs has no precedential legal value. We expect that the Supreme Court will reconsider the constitutionality of forced unionism before too long.”

The National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, called the case in March "a thinly veiled attempt to weaken collective bargaining and silence educators’ voices."

Noted the NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, in a statement: “The U.S. Supreme Court today rejected a political ploy to silence public employees like teachers, school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, higher education faculty and other educators to work together to shape their profession. In Friedrichs, the court saw through the political attacks on the workplace rights of teachers, educators and other public employees. This decision recognizes that stripping public employees of their voices in the workplace is not what our country needs.”