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On January 21st, 2009, the Supreme Court announced its decision in Locke v. Karass. In this case, the Court considered whether union requirements that dictate that nonmembers pay a service fee for litigation that does not directly benefit the local union (i.e. “national litigation”) violate the First Amendment. In a unanimous decision delivered by Justice Breyer, the Court held that the First Amendment permits a local union to charge nonmembers for national litigation expenses provided that two conditions are met:
- the subject matter of the extra-local litigation is of a kind that would be chargeable if the litigation were local, for example, litigation appropriately related to collective bargaining rather than political speech, and
- the charge is reciprocal in nature, that is, the contributing local union reasonably expects other local unions to contribute similarly to the national union’s resources used for costs of similar litigation on behalf of the contributing local union if and when it takes place.
The Court found that these two conditions were met and therefore maintained that the service fee did not violate the First Amendment.
To discuss the decision, we have University of Chicago and NYU Law School Professor Richard A. Epstein.