What others say: Vote on unions shows perils of leaving court seat vacant

  • Tuesday, April 5, 2016 4:15pm
  • Opinion

In January, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a major labor case whose outcome could affect the lives of millions of Americans. On Tuesday, six weeks after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the court’s eight members announced that they were deadlocked in a 4-to-4 vote.

The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, was an effort by conservative anti-union activists to cripple public-sector unions by prohibiting them from charging non-members fees that support collective-bargaining activities. The plaintiffs had claimed that imposing such fees violated their First Amendment rights. Tuesday’s outcome was a temporary victory for unions, because the teachers’ union had won in the federal appeals court and the 4-to-4 vote means the appellate decision stands. But the issue will most likely come before the justices again; the anti-union forces already have several similar lawsuits moving through lower courts.

Since 1977, the Supreme Court has upheld union “fair share” fees as constitutional. The court has, in fact, reaffirmed that ruling many times in the past four decades. But the evenly divided ruling leaves the issue open to reconsideration, without the affirmation of a longstanding precedent a nine-member court can and should give.

After Justice Scalia’s death, top Senate Republicans announced they would not consider any nominee from President Obama. The blockage, they say, is about “letting the people’s voice be heard” in the presidential election. In the meantime, they claim, an eight-member court can get along just fine.

That’s not true. The Supreme Court is the nation’s final arbiter of legal disputes, and while the Constitution does not mandate a certain number of justices, an 1869 federal law set it at nine. A fully staffed court is needed to resolve this issue, as well as many others that could be headed for tie votes. This term alone, major cases involving abortion rights, religious freedom and women’s access to contraceptives, voting rights and Mr. Obama’s actions on immigration are all at risk.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has said his party’s attitude is “about a principle, not a person.” Yet at the same time he has rejected Mr. Obama’s pick, Merrick Garland, chief judge of the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia Circuit, on the grounds that he is opposed by the National Rifle Association. The Washington Post reported on Monday that a longtime lawyer for the N.R.A., Charles Cooper, is a great admirer of Judge Garland, who he once said would be “among President Clinton’s very best judicial appointments.”

It’s no surprise that other Republicans are also struggling to defend their do-nothing stance, and bungling their messages in the process. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which decides whether to give Judge Garland a hearing, has been dogged by criticism from his constituents at home. “It’s not fair for this man not to get a hearing,” one said to him at a town hall meeting on Monday. “It’s not right for this country to be short-staffed on the Supreme Court.”

Last Friday, Senator Jerry Moran, Republican of Kansas, came under intense fire from Tea Party groups for saying that the Senate should do its job and give Judge Garland a hearing, even though he also promised to vote against Judge Garland before meeting him.

The nation’s founders devised a government of checks and balances, not of obstruction and paralysis. Every day that Senate Republicans refuse to give Judge Garland the consideration he is due, they are embarrassing themselves and ignoring the voices of the people.

— The New York Times,

March 29

More in Opinion

Nurse Sherra Pritchard gives Madyson Knudsen a bandage at the Kenai Public Health Center after the 10-year-old received her first COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska Voices: A mom’s and pediatrician’s perspective on COVID-19 vaccines for children

I want to see children and their parents who have yet to get vaccinated roll up their sleeves.

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Opinion: The foolish men claiming self-defense

It’s not just misguided teenagers carrying guns who find themselves in trouble with the law.

Larry Persily (Peninsula Clarion file)
Opinion: State defends its right to cut nonexistent taxes

This from a state that has no property tax on homes or businesses, only on the oil industry.

Dr. Jay Butler, former chief medical officer for the State of Alaska, is seen in this undated photo. (Courtesy photo)
Alaska Voices: Feeling grateful this Thanksgiving for the COVID vaccines

The COVID vaccines remain our strongest tool in combating the pandemic and helping us return to our lives and the things we love and cherish.

A resident casts their vote in the regular municipal election Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020 at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Voices of the Peninsula: All votes matter

In the beginning, only property-holding white men could vote.

Cristen San Roman. (Photo provided)
Point of View: Is management of Cook Inlet catered to special interest groups?

If these fish are so at risk, why is BOEM able to move forward with lease sale 258?

Homer Foundation
Point of View: Grateful for the hidden ‘good’

Gratitude: Noun The state of being grateful; thankfulness. The state or quality… Continue reading

Homer High School Principal Douglas Waclawski. (Photo provided)
Point of View: What is Homer High School about?

What I consider Homer High’s strength is that we are a place for learning.

UAA Chancellor Sean Parnell. (courtesy photo)
Alaska Voices: Invent your future at UAA

At UAA we’re providing the tools to help students of all ages and skills chart a new course forward.

A registered nurse prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at the pop-up clinic on the Spit on May 27. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Alaska Voices: Vaccination is the still best protection from COVID-19

The Alaska State Medical Association encourages you to protect yourselves and your community from preventable illness by getting recommended vaccines.

(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
The sad diminishment of Rep. Don Young

Young seems afraid to demand his party leader defend the dignity of the institution he loves.

A “Vote Here” sign is seen at the City of Kenai building on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Clarion file)
Alaska Voices: Restore our strong campaign donation limits

Without campaign spending limits, the ideal of one person, one vote is no longer really true.