Rauner union dues order among pending U.S. Supreme Court cases

  • A case with potential implications for the future of public employee unions could be thrown into question after Justice Antonin Scalia's death.

    A case with potential implications for the future of public employee unions could be thrown into question after Justice Antonin Scalia's death. Associated Press File Photo

 
 
Updated 2/15/2016 6:44 PM

A U.S. Supreme Court case that could affect Gov. Bruce Rauner's move to do away with unions' so-called "fair share" payments is among those thrown into question by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Rauner signed an executive order last year saying state workers who don't want to join their union don't have to pay fees -- typically less than union dues -- to help with bargaining costs.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But while that move is tied up in court, the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing a California case on the same issue that unions have characterized as a possible threat to their future.

The case affects more than 5 million workers in 23 states and Washington, D.C., and seeks to overturn a nearly 40-year-old Supreme Court decision.

Public-sector labor unions had been bracing for a stinging defeat. But now, what seemed like a certain 5-4 split, with the conservatives in the majority and the liberals in dissent, instead looks like a tie that would be resolved in favor of the unions, because they won in the lower courts.

"That's a big loss. It was all teed up and it looks like it's not going to go anywhere now," said Brian Fitzpatrick, a Vanderbilt University law professor who once served as a law clerk to Scalia.

The remaining eight justices have two options in the case of a 4-4 tie: They can vote to hear the case a second time when a new colleague joins them, or they can hand down a one-sentence opinion that upholds the result reached in the lower court without setting a nationwide rule.

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"Having a voice on the job is a right," said Anders Lindall, a spokesman of AFSCME, the union that represents many Illinois public employees. "And having a strong union is a necessity."

Rauner's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rauner and Illinois aren't parties to the case, but the governor filed a brief on the plaintiff's side, arguing the fees shouldn't be required.

President Barack Obama has said he'll move to appoint a replacement for Scalia "in due time," but Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said a new justice won't be considered until a new president takes office.

• The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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