Last week the activist right-wing majority of the United States Supreme Court –in a radical departure from well-settled jurisprudence — further weakened the ability of labor unions to engage in meaningful political activity. The decision has been largely overshadowed by the Court’s ruling on Arizona’s S.B. 1070, and by its anticipated ruling on the Affordable Care Act. Yet, as far as the viability of the labor movement is concerned, the significance of this decision can scarcely be overstated.
In Knox v. SEIU, Local 1000, the majority opinion displayed an unprecedented level of concern for the First Amendment rights of a minority of public-sector employees – but only insofar as those rights limit the ability of labor unions to speak politically. The case arose from SEIU’s state-wide response to several anti-union voter propositions in California. The initiatives were announced after the union had already determined and sent out notices for dues for the coming year.