Supreme Court Affirms First Amendment In Harris — Barely

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

Radical? It would be radical to allow people to voluntarily associate or not as they please? For this Supreme Court Justice and her dissenting three liberal colleagues, apparently to grant the smallest sliver of the American workforce the opportunity to decide for themselves whether they want to support a union is more than they can stomach.

How sad that as Americans prepare to celebrate their nation’s 238th birthday, they should be reminded that some members of our highest court find the First Amendment of the Constitution too “radical,” and that even the five Justices who found for freedom in Harris v. Quinn only found it applicable in the narrowest possible sense.

Kagan is right about one thing — freedom is radical. It was radical in 1776 and sadly it’s still radical today.

Matt Patterson is Executive Director, Center for Worker Freedom, at Americans for Tax Reform. Mpatterson.column@gmail.com.