Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees

Becket Role:
Amicus

Scoreboard

Decision:
Won
Decision Date:
June 27, 2018
Deciding Court:
U.S. Supreme Court

Status

On June 27, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court clarified that mandatory union fees are a form of government coercion that violates workers’ rights.

Case Summary

In 2015, Mark Janus, a government employee at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Service, sued his union—the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Janus argued that mandatory union fees forced him to subsidize the union in taking negotiating positions against the government with which he disagreed. After losing in the district court in September 2016 and again at the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in March 2017, Janus appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In December 2017, Becket filed a friend-of-the-court brief emphasizing that government workers must be allowed to opt out of mandatory fees to protect their freedom of speech and religious freedom. On June 27, 2018, the Supreme Court ruled for Janus when it clarified that mandatory fees are a form of government coercion that violate workers’ rights.

Pay no attention to the government behind the curtain

Pay no attention to the government behind the curtain! At least that’s what supporters of mandatory union fees for government workers wanted in Janus v. AFSCME. Unions can be protective forces for government workers—but not when they use the force of the government to exact mandatory fees from government employees, to support speech with which the employees disagree.

In 2015, Mark Janus, a government employee at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Service, sued the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in federal court, claiming that mandatory union fees force him to subsidize the union in taking positions against the government with which he disagrees. Janus asked the district court to protect his First Amendment rights and make public sector unions earn the trust of government employees, rather than using government power to force them to support union speech with mandatory fees. In September 2016, the district court ruled against Janus. On appeal in March 2017, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals again ruled against Janus. Janus appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear his case.

Becket argues that mandatory fees threaten religious liberty

In December 2017, Becket filed an amicus brief in support of Janus, arguing that the government is engaging in “coercion laundering” when it gives unions power to force government employees to support speech they don’t like, even though the government could not force them directly. The government shouldn’t be excused from forcing employees to speak against their will by using unions to hide the coercion.

Our brief showed that this issue has far reaching consequences, especially for religious liberty. For instance, the government uses private accrediting agencies as gatekeepers for federal funding like Pell Grants. Accreditors should not be allowed to use their funding authority to suppress religious speech any more than the government itself could. There are many other situations where the government relies on private entities to provide government benefits or to perform government services. When acting on the government’s behalf, these organizations should be required to respect constitutional rights the same way the government is. Just like “money laundering” (passing illegitimate funds through a legitimate business) cannot remove the taint of criminally obtained funds, “coercion laundering” (allowing a private party to force someone to do something the government could not force them to) cannot remove the taint of unconstitutional coercion.

U.S. Supreme Court: Mandatory union fees are form of government coercion

On February 26, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court heard Janus’ case. On June 27, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Janus in a 5-4 decision, striking down mandatory union fees for government workers. The ruling clarified that mandatory fees are a form of government coercion that violates workers’ rights.

This ruling has significant impact for religious colleges and universities, suggesting that private accrediting agencies that are delegated government authority cannot use that authority to infringe on the schools’ religious speech and practices. Janus was represented by Liberty Justice Center and National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

Janus was represented by Winston & Strawn, Liberty Justice Center, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

Importance to religious liberty

  • Individual freedom: When acting on the government’s behalf, private entities should be required to respect constitutional rights the same way the government is. Government workers must be allowed to opt out of mandatory fees to protect their freedom of speech and religious freedom.
  • Free speech: The government engages in “coercion laundering” when it gives unions power to force government employees to support speech they don’t like, even though the government could not force them directly. The government shouldn’t be excused from forcing employees to speak against their will just because it is using unions to hide the coercion.
  • Education: The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME has significant impact for religious colleges and universities, suggesting that private accrediting agencies that are delegated government authority cannot use that authority to infringe on the schools’ religious speech and practices.

Case Information

Becket Role:
Amicus
Case Start Date:
February 9, 2015
Deciding Court:
U.S. Supreme Court
Original Court:
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
Supreme Court Status:
Decided
Practice Area(s):
,