Bench Memos

The Money Behind the Friedrichs Case

Politico ran a story on Friday that revealed that the Center for Individual Rights (CIR), the non-profit, public-interest law firm that is representing Rebecca Friedrichs and 9 other public school teachers from California in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, *gulp*, received donations from charitable foundations that support their work.  Given that CIR is a non-profit that relies on donations to provide pro bono legal assistance to its clients, much like any number of similar public-interest legal organizations on both the left and the right, I’m stunned, and I am sure that you are, too.

But Politico missed the real story of the money behind this case: Rebecca Friedrichs.  Yes, the namesake of the case, Rebecca Friedrichs. 

Rebecca Friedrichs is paying for a team of high-priced lawyers, the list of which has grown as the case has made its way up to the Supreme Court.  She is also paying for a sophisticated communications campaign, with well-produced graphics and videos.  Nothing is being left to chance.

And all of the lawyers and communications staff for which Rebecca is paying have one purpose: making sure that Rebecca loses her case.  Why?  Because Rebecca and her fellow plaintiffs are forced to pay for the union’s attempt to defeat their lawsuit (so long as it is not categorized as unrelated to collective bargaining).  They have to pay for the speech that is attacking them.  They have to pay for the unions’ efforts to make sure that they are denied a voice. 

But then, being forced to pay for union speech with which they disagree (and which may actually be harmful to their best interests) is nothing new to Rebecca and her fellow plaintiffs.  The unions take positions in collective bargaining to elevate seniority over merit, to advocate for tenure instead of competition, and to push for pension spending that California cannot afford.  These are all inherently political issues—ones that Rebecca and her fellow plaintiffs are forced to support financially, even if they vehemently disagree with their union’s position.

Today, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a case that could free Rebecca Friedrichs from the obligation to pay fees to the union for collective bargaining that includes inherently political speech with which she disagrees.  But before she can get relief, Rebecca is being forced to pay for the union’s efforts to deny her of her First Amendment rights.  And that is the real story of the money behind the Friedrichs case that Politico should have told.

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

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