Bench Memos

Politics & Policy

The Money Behind Janus: It’s Déjà vu All Over Again

This morning, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31. The case asks a similar question to one raised just two years ago in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association — namely whether forcing a public employee to choose between subsidizing a union’s political speech or being subject to termination for failure to do so violates the First Amendment.

Coming so soon after Friedrichs — a case in which the Court deadlocked 4-4 after the tragic and untimely death of Justice Scalia — Janus has a déjà vu quality to it.  The sense that we have seen all of this before is nowhere more palpable than in the public arguments marshaled by some of the more liberal elements of the media against Mark Janus’s case.

Bereft of sufficient legal arguments to justify the First Amendment violations perpetuated against public servants, left-wing publications have resorted to attacking the messenger. Mark Janus, a child-support specialist for the state of Illinois, is accused of being an agent of big corporations and billionaires. The proof? The public-interest law firms that represent Mr. Janus — namely Liberty Justice Center and the National Right to Work Legal Foundation — are accused of taking donations from charitable foundations that support free-market policy.

Just as in Friedrichs, it is perfectly unsurprising that foundations and individuals voluntarily would give to non-profit, public-interest law firms that provide free representation to their clients. Indeed, public-interest firms on both the left and the right regularly rely on charitable donations to carry out their work.

What is surprising is the fact that Mark Janus is personally funding a cadre of high-priced lawyers with one goal: making sure that Mark loses his case. Why would he pay for the lawyers arguing against him? Because he has no choice. Mark is required to pay agency fees to the union, which are used for chargeable expenses like litigation, or he can be fired. And, of course, he is required to pay for political collective bargaining speech, or he can be fired.

This is the real story of the money behind the Janus case—a story of forced contributions for political speech. But the story could have a happy ending. The Supreme Court will hear arguments today in a case that could vindicate the First Amendment rights of millions of Americans like Mark Janus. For Rebecca Friedrichs, for Mark Janus, and for all the workers who are being denied a voice and a choice, let’s hope that the second time is the charm.

Robert Alt is the president and chief executive officer of The Buckeye Institute.

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