Opinion
The exterior of the U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington March 5, 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron The exterior of the U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington March 5, 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron  

Supreme Court Affirms First Amendment In Harris — Barely

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Matt Patterson
Executive Director, Center for Worker Freedom, ATR
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      Matt Patterson

      Matt Patterson is senior editor at Capital Research Center, where he oversees the publications Green Watch and Labor Watch. In 2009-2010 he was a National Review Institute Washington Fellow. Previously he served as research assistant to Charles Krauthammer and policy communications coordinator for the Rudy Giuliani presidential campaign. Matt's columns and commentary have appeared in the Washington Post, FOXNews.com, New York Post, Washington Times, and American Thinker, among many others. He is the author of "Union of Hearts: The Abraham Lincoln & Ann Rutledge Story."

This is what it’s come to.

So weakened have our liberties become that we celebrate when a group of nine unelected elite grant a small portion of our people a freedom that our founders thought they had given to all of us so long ago.

On June 30, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Harris v. Quinn. The case, which had worked its way through the lower courts, involved personal home healthcare workers in Illinois known as personal assistants (PAs), privately contracted agents who care for sick and disabled persons in their homes. Often these PAs are relatives or friends of their employer, and receive payment for their services via Medicaid.

In its infinite wisdom, the state of Illinois had decided that these workers, even those who did not belong to a union or want to belong to a union, should be compelled to pay dues to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which bargains collectively for state employees.

The reasoning: because the state pays these workers, they are for all intents and purposes state employees.

Pamela Harris disagreed. Harris, a Lake County woman who cares for her disabled son, along with other PAs including Susan Watts, who cares for her quadriplegic daughter, filed a complaint against the Governor of Illinois and the SEIU, seeking an injunction against the forcible deduction of union dues from their Medicaid payments.

Harris and company argued that they should not be forced to subsidize the SEIU, a union to which they did not belong or wish to support.

The Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision written by Justice Samuel Alito agreed, freeing the PAs from their forced association with the SEIU. Alito made no bones about the fact that what the state of Illinois and union had done was a Constitutional abomination, writing:

The First Amendment prohibits the collection of an agency fee from personal assistants in the Rehabilitation Program who do not want to join or support the union.

Harris and supporters of her cause were quick to celebrate. “Families in Illinois can relax,” Harris said in a statement, “knowing their homes are safe from being a union workplace and there will be no third party intruding into the care we provide our disabled sons and daughters.”

Supporters of government-enforced labor monopolies on the left were quick to decry the court’s decision. But some of these same observers also noted that it could have been much worse for them. As Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her impassioned dissent, the Court could have ended forcible dues deduction throughout the public sector, “thus imposing a right-to-work regime for all government employees.”

Kagan breathes a sigh of relief when she notes that the Court failed to do something so “radical,” instead finding narrowly that these Illinois healthcare workers can avoid such dues because they are only “quasi-public employees.”