Civil Forfeiture

On March 29, 2016 Supreme Court issued a 4-4 ruling in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The split decision allows the 9th Circuit ruling to stand but does not establish a precedent for anywhere else in the country. A full court with a new Justice may rule in favor of the First Amendment rights of public employees. The Friedrichs attorneys are petitioning for the case to be reheard when there are nine Justices, another case could also be brought before a new court defending public employees freedom of speech and association.


Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association et al. is a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court filed by the Center for Individual Rights on behalf of Rebecca Friedrichs and several other plaintiffs. If the justices rule in favor of Friedrichs the decision could:

  • Provide right-to-work protection for all public employees in the country. Right to-work means a union cannot get a worker fired for not paying dues or fees.

  • Allow public workers to opt out of their union without needing to renew their objection every year. Currently, many unions require members who opt out to redo the paperwork each year in order to refrain from paying for union politics.


All workers, whether they are in a right-to-work state or not, have the right to leave their union.

In non-right-to-work states, however, employees can only opt out of paying the portion of their dues that go directly to support political causes or candidates. They still must pay the vast majority of their dues in what are known as agency fees.

Rebecca Friedrichs and her fellow plaintiffs argue collective bargaining in the public sector is inherently political, and government unions devote more resources to their political agenda than just the small portion of dues which are exempt from agency fees. Because of the political nature of collective bargaining, workers have a First Amendment right to not pay any dues or fees to a union.

CIR’s website on the case explains, “Whether the union is negotiating for specific class sizes or pressing a local government to spend tax dollars on teacher pensions rather than on building parks, the union’s negotiating positions embody political choices that are often controversial.” Therefore, the plaintiffs say that by being forced to fund collective bargaining, they are being forced to fund political activity they might not necessarily agree with.


If the justices rule in favor of Rebecca, government workers across the country would not need to pay unions as a condition of employment. Workers in the 25 right-to-work states already have this right and some government workers in a few non-right-to-work states have similar rights. This means that such a decision would only affect workers in roughly half the states in the country.

Further, Mackinac Center research provided to the Supreme Court in two amicus briefs (available here and here) has shown that in right-to-work states, only about 20 percent of unionized workers exercise these rights, meaning that unions in these states still have the financial support of about 80 percent of workers on average.

For more information on the Friedrichs case, read a backgrounder or watch a video summary.

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