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In deciding Janus v. AFSCME for Mark Janus today, the U.S. Supreme Court by a vote of 5 to 4 overturned Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Educ., 431 U.S. 209 (1977). The ruling was widely expected.

In overruling Abood, the nation’s high court said that Illinois’ extraction of agency fees from nonconsenting public-sector employees like Mark Janus violated the First Amendment. In other words, the Court said that the First Amendment protects public employees from being required to support a private group whose views may differ from theirs. Abood, the Court said, “has proved unworkable.”

For lawyers forced to join and to fund a state’s mandatory bar association this is wonderful news. Abood was the linchpin case upon which mandatory membership bars comprehensively ordered their activities. Today’s Janus ruling breaks one leg off the stool mandatory bars plop down on to straddle lawyer First Amendment rights.

Abood and Keller.

In Abood, the Court ruled unanimously that union shop clauses in public sector collective bargaining agreements could not be used to compel nonunion employees to fund the union’s political or ideological activities to which they objected. The Court, however, also held that nonunion public sector employees could be required to fund union activities related to “collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment purposes.”

Abood was subsequently used to underpin Keller v. State Bar of California, the U.S. Supreme Court case that said mandatory membership bar associations could use compulsory members’ dues only for regulating the legal profession or improving the quality of legal services — not for political or ideological activities.

Nonetheless, ever since Keller was decided, lawyers have objected to the inherent conflict of interest that exists when mandatory bars — in line with the ruling in Abood — are the sole arbiters deciding which of their activities are “germane” to the permissible purposes of lawyer regulation or improving the quality of legal services (chargeable expenditures) and which activities are political or ideological and therefore not germane (non-chargeable expenditures).

In highlighting Abood‘s infirmities, the Court declared “its line between chargeable and nonchargeable expenditures has proved to be impossible to draw with precision.”

But since member non-transparency is their stock in trade, mandatory bars have historically never bothered with such ‘trifles’ — ignoring altogether the line between chargeable and nonchargeable expenses. ‘Germaneness’ analysis? What’s that?

This is why a good case can be made for the inability and the unwillingness of mandatory bars to determine what are chargeable or nonchargeable expenditures. Lawyers, like public sector employees, have similarly faced what the Court termed “a daunting and expensive task if they wish to challenge union chargeability determinations.”

No more opt-out — affirmative consent required.

Prior case-law required notices with “sufficient information to gauge the propriety of the union’s fee.” The reality, however, has been different. The unions, including AFSCME, have failed to provide sufficient information to permit such a determination. Indeed, the Court Opinion included “some examples regarding the Union respondent’s expenditures.” The Court listed “categories of expenses’ and the amount in each category “said to be attributable to chargeable and nonchargeable expenses.”

“How could any nonmember determine whether these numbers are even close to the mark without launching a legal challenge and retaining the services of attorneys and accountants? Indeed, even with such services, it would be a laborious and difficult task to check these figures.” at 41.

Interestingly, these vague, imprecise expenditure declarations frankly bear a strong resemblance to the unhelpful high-level expenditure disclosures provided by mandatory bars such as Nevada and Arizona.

Forget for now the fox assigning herself to count the chickens in the hen-house. Mandatory bars do like hanging their capes on what they say is their members’ ability to object and to request a refund– albeit after-the-fact — of any expenditures objectors believe are political or ideological. If the objection is successful, objecting members can expect at best a nickel ninety-eight refund for their trouble.

And in even in those jurisdictions where lawyers can opt out of a bar’s self-serving penny-ante lobbying expenditure calculation, it still requires lawyers to affirmatively check a box on the dues invoice to get the measly deduction.

Happily for mandatory bar members everywhere, the Court today, also ruled that taking money from nonconsenting employees for a public-sector union is a First Amendment violation. Employees must choose, the Court said, to support the union before anything is taken from them. “Accordingly, neither an agency fee nor any other form of payment to a public-sector union may be deducted from an employee, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.”

And while lawyers and their trade associations are not exactly identical to public employees and their unions, there’s nonetheless a long line of cases, including Keller, that have consistently analogized bar associations to union shops. For this reason, mandatory bars were apprehensive about the demise of Abood. Little wonder that 21 former Presidents of the District of Columbia Bar signed an amicus brief asking the Court to leave Abood “undisturbed.”

The ex-bar presidents claimed, “The Abood/Keller line of cases represents a firmly rooted body of law upon which not only states and unions but also integrated bars, File:Aimee Semple McPherson-AngelusTemple Sermon 1923 01.jpgincluding the D.C. Bar, have long relied in structuring their activities. Overruling Abood would have a profoundly destabilizing impact on bars all over the country.”

So expect reverberations at the nation’s mandatory bar associations — whether engendered voluntarily or mandated by external forces.

All that aside, I can scarcely wait for the reaction of mandatory bars across the nation to Janus, especially in jurisdictions with particularly restive members such as Arizona, Nevada, Washington and Wisconsin.

But expect mandatory bar leaders not to go along quietly or quickly to restructure operations in accord with today’s decision.

Instead, they will pretend it’s business as usual. Abood or not, still others may piously prattle and parse that “Keller-purity” means “Janus-purity,” too.

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Credits: Thumbs up for PYPS, by Alex Luyckx at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; Paul gives the thumbs up, by Mikey at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; normal, happy, sad, by David Pacey, Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; Aimee Semple McPherson. Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

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