The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last week in perhaps the most important case of the term. The reaction from progressives and their allies was instructive.
In Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the justices will decide whether government workers may be forced to financially support unions that they have declined to join voluntarily.
The dispute addresses vital issues regarding free speech and association. But to hear the panicked, quavering voices on the left, the case is part of a vast, right-wing conspiracy to destroy organized labor, a key Democratic patron.
The case involves Mark Janus, a social worker in Illinois (which — irony alert! — is on the verge of bankruptcy, thanks to its public employee unions). Mr. Janus argues that his First Amendment rights are being violated because he must pay an “agency fee” to a government union, even though he is not a member. The fee is supposed to cover the costs of “free riders,” non-union employees who are covered by a union-negotiated contract.
But the free-rider issue is an artificial creation, a product of laws that give organized labor a monopoly on worker representation and bargaining. And the notion that money collected by government unions can be neatly segregated into different accounts for collective bargaining and political activity is preposterous. Public-sector labor negotiations are inherently political and involve matters of public policy such as tax rates and government spending practices.
Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne argues that “nothing about the agency fee deprives Janus of his right as a citizen to speak out as he wishes.” But what does that have to do with anything? Mr. Dionne simply glosses over the concern that the agency fee — forcibly paid to a private organization, unlike a tax — requires Mr. Janus to endorse ideas he might find disagreeable.
Regardless of how the high court rules, nothing will prevent workers who seek union representation from joining a labor organization. That’s how it should be. And nothing will stop unions from seeking more money from their members to promote whatever agendas or political candidates they please. But compelling workers to donate a portion of their paychecks to organizations they have not joined and that agitate for causes with which they disagree should be unconstitutional on its face.
What the Janus case makes exceedingly clear is how warmly the political left now embraces the concept of state compulsion and coercion while spurning personal liberty and choice. For what does it reveal when Democrats insist the very existence of unions is at stake if Big Labor is no longer allowed to harness the power of the state to strong-arm contributions from employees who would rather not sign up?