This year, the Supreme Court is poised to announce its most significant expansion of the 1st Amendment since the Citizens United decision in 2010, which struck down laws that limited campaign spending by corporations, unions and the very wealthy.
Now the “money is speech” doctrine is back and at the heart of a case to be heard this month that threatens the financial foundation of public employee unions in 22 “blue” states.
Like Citizens United, the Los Angeles Times reports the union case is being closely watched for its potential to shift political power in states and across the nation.
The legal challenge on the campaign funding laws was brought by conservative activists who hoped that the free flow of money from wealthy donors would boost Republican candidates. And since 2010, the GOP has achieved big gains in Congress and in state legislatures across the nation.
Conservatives also believe challenging mandatory union fees has the potential to weaken the public sector unions that are strong supporters of the Democratic Party.
At issue in the union case is whether public employees can be required to pay a fee to cover the cost of collective bargaining and resolving grievances, even if they have personal objections to the union.
More than 40 years ago, the Supreme Court gave this arrangement its constitutional blessing. The justices set out a middle position in the case of the case of Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education.
An Illinois lawsuit asks the court to overturn the Abood decision and strike down forced union fees nationwide.
Beyond politics, however, the legal question before the court is whether requiring public employees to pay a fee to a union to cover the cost of collective bargaining amounts to “compelled speech” that violates the 1st Amendment.