Mandatory union fees and the First Amendment

February 22, 2018


The Supreme Court is considering arguments in a case that could have a huge effect on public-section unions and their membership.Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) will be heard on February 26 at the Court. The question in front of the nine Justices is if public-sector “agency shop” arrangements—payments that workers represented by a union must pay even if they are not dues-paying members—should be invalidated under the First Amendment.

The Supreme Court said in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977) that government employees who don’t belong to a union can be required to pay for union contract negotiating costs that benefit to all public employees, including non-union members.

The Abood decision has been challenged several times and an evenly divided Court couldn’t decide a similar case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, in 2016.  This time, a full Court will consider the issue.

Joining us to discuss the case and the issues at stake are two leading constitutional experts.




Alicia Hickok is a Partner at the law firm Drinker Biddle and a Lecturer in law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She wrote an amicus brief in the Janus case on behalf of the Rutherford Institute, siding with Janus’s position.


Eugene Volokh is Gary T. Schwartz Distinguished Professor of Law at UCLA Law School. He co-wrote an amicus brief in Janus with Will Baude siding with the union.


Jeffrey Rosen is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Constitution Center, the only institution in America chartered by Congress “to disseminate information about the United States Constitution on a nonpartisan basis.” He is also a professor at The George Washington University Law School, and a contributing editor for The Atlantic. 

Related Decisions and Documents

Additional Resources

Our Interactive Constitution is the leading digital resource about the debates and text behind the greatest vision of human freedom in history, the U.S. Constitution. Here, scholars from across the legal and philosophical spectrum interact with each other to explore the meaning of each provision of our founding document. 

Common Interpretation
First Amendment: Freedom Of Speech And The Press By Geoffrey R. Stone and Eugene Volokh

Matters of Debate
Fixing Free Speech by Geoffrey R. Stone
Frontiers for Free Speech by Eugene Volokh

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