Rebecca Friedrichs, a veteran Orange County public school teacher, sued to challenge the mandatory fees paid to the California Teachers Assn. (Greg Schneider / Associated Press)
David G. Savage
March 29, 2016
A well-planned legal assault on public unions collapsed Tuesday when the Supreme Court deadlocked over a California woman’s lawsuit to strike down mandatory fees, the strongest evidence yet that Justice Antonin Scalia’s death has stymied the court’s conservatives.
The 4-4 split keeps in place a 1970s-era rule that authorizes unions to require municipal employees, teachers, college instructors and transit workers to pay a “fair share fee” to help cover the cost of collective bargaining.
The tie vote, widely expected after Scalia’s death, nevertheless came as a relief to union officials who feared the conservative justices were on the brink of striking down the pro-union law as a violation of free speech.
In another sign Tuesday that the high court continues to grapple with the vacancy left by Scalia, justices asked for additional briefings in a pending dispute over the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate under the Affordable Care Act.
The request looks to be an attempt by the justices to find a compromise in that case, which appeared evenly split during oral arguments earlier this month.
Tie votes could be a theme this year as justices vote on several major disputes that divide along ideological lines, including abortion, election districts and immigration.
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The White House said the court’s deadlock in the union case underscores the need for the Senate to confirm the president’s nominee, Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to replace Scalia. The Republican-controlled Senate is refusing to act on Garland’s nomination, saying the next president should fill the seat.
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