The Supreme Court has split 4-4 in a case surrounding union fees – after right-wing Christian teachers sued a teaching union for funding an equal marriage campaign.
Christian elementary school teacher Rebecca Friedrichs brought a case against the California Teachers Association in 2013 on the grounds of her First Amendment rights – after finding out the union had financially backed an ad campaign opposing a ban on gay marriage.
Ms Friedrichs was not a member of the CTA – but California law requires non-union teachers to pay ‘agency fees’ to the union as a condition of employment, covering the costs of representing her through collective bargaining.
Filing a case along with nine other teachers at the time, she claimed that her agency fees going to the union violates her religious freedom, because of the equal marriage ads.
It says: “A lot of us were very offended by these advertisements.
“We are on the opposite side of this debate and do not support efforts to make gay marriage legal.
“But the unions used our forced union dues to pay for all sorts of advertising to paint us with a broad brush to say we supported gay marriage when we did not.
“We didn’t feel that it was right for our personal money to be taken and sent to support political campaigns set up to defeat something we were voting for.”
Six of the ten teachers in the case were part of the Christian Educators Association International – which claims to “support the Biblical view of traditional marriage” and attacks teaching unions for its “support of the Homosexual Agenda.”
But the court arguments eschewed mention of the same-sex marriage issue, in favour of broader arguments about collective bargaining and the First Amendment, attempting to strike down laws that require the mandatory payment of agency fees.
After a lower court ruled against Ms Friedrichs, the US Supreme Court ruled on the issue this week.
Due to the vacant seat left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the court was split 4-4 on the issue with no deciding vote.
In the case of an equal split at the Supreme Court, federal law dictates that the ruling of the lower court is affirmed – meaning the ruling in favour of the teaching unions was upheld.
A short ruling from the eight current justices said: “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.”
The ultra-conservative Justice Scalia would likely have tipped the case 5-4 in favour of Ms Friedrichs, had he been alive.
Iain Murray of the right-wing Competitive Enterprise Institute said: “The death of Justice Scalia has proved a disaster for public sector workers who have their paychecks raided by unions.”
Lily Eskelsen Garcia of the National Education Association hit back: “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.”
The Republicans in Congress have pledged to block Barack Obama’s nominee for the vacant Supreme Court seat, Merrick Garland.