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California Teachers Renew Challenge to Union “Fair Share” Fees

By Garrett C. Parks

On February 6, 2017, The Center for Individual Rights (CIR)—a Washington, D.C. non-profit, public interest law firm—filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a group of California public school teachers against the State and California Teachers Association to challenge California’s “agency shop” law, which requires teachers to pay certain union fees even when they are not union members.

In the Complaint, the non-union, teacher plaintiffs allege that requiring them to pay union fees violates the First Amendment because, among other things, the teachers have political, moral, and/or religious objections to activities and efforts on which unions spend money and allocate resources.

CIR previously represented plaintiff teachers in the recently-decided case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which we discussed at length here. In a March 26, 2016, per curiam decision, the United States Supreme Court left in place the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal decision upholding the legality of the union fees. 

The Court affirmed the Ninth Circuit’s decision without analysis due to a 4-4 split among the sitting justices, as the case came up for review following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Many commentators opined that the Court likely would decide the case in favor of the teachers challenging the law, for reasons we previously noted, including Justice Samuel Alito’s view that “no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize the speech of a third party that he or she does not wish to support.”

By renewing this challenge, CIR and teachers are likely anticipating that Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch— President Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Scalia—will not only be confirmed, but also will be the fifth vote necessary to strike down the law. 

We will continue to monitor this case and provide updated information and analysis as it moves through the courts. The case is Yohn et al. v. California Teachers Ass’n, Case No: 8-17-cv-00202 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 6, 2017). The complaint is available here.