Will ‘Money Is Speech’ Logic of Supreme Court Be Used to Screw American Workers?

by on February 12, 2018 · 0 comments

in Under the Perfect Sun

In the wake of my last column on the agenda of the billionaire backers of the Janus vs. AFSCME case soon to be heard by the Supreme Court, the Los Angeles Times published a solid piece that outlined the broader context and suspect reasoning guiding this shameless attack on American labor:

This year, the high court is poised to announce its most significant expansion of the 1st Amendment since the Citizens United decision in 2010, which struck down laws that limited campaign spending by corporations, unions and the very wealthy.

Now the “money is speech” doctrine is back and at the heart of a case to be heard this month that threatens the financial foundation of public employee unions in 22 “blue” states.

Like Citizens United, the union case is being closely watched for its potential to shift political power in states and across the nation.

The legal attack on the campaign funding laws was brought by conservative activists who hoped that the free flow of money from wealthy donors would boost Republican candidates. And since 2010, the GOP has achieved big gains in Congress and in state legislatures across the nation.

Conservatives also believe the attack on mandatory union fees has the potential to weaken the public sector unions that are strong supporters of the Democratic Party.

Credit: Pixabay

While it’s abundantly clear why progressives should be disturbed by this naked power grab, not all the dissent is coming from the left. Even those with little sympathy for the Democratic Party have noted how brazenly this case distorts the notion of “free speech.”

Interestingly, the LA Times piece points out that even some on the right are not sold on the logic of the “spending equals speech” argument:

Harvard law professor Charles Fried, the U.S. solicitor general under President Reagan, filed a brief in the union case questioning how the court could say the 1st Amendment protects public employees from paying a union fee, but not for speaking out about problems in an agency.

Meanwhile, several prominent 1st Amendment scholars with conservative credentials filed briefs questioning the premise that union fees involve speech.

“We think this is not compelled speech. It’s a compelled payment of money,” said UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh. He noted lawyers, doctors, and other licensed professionals are required by state laws to pay fees for continuing education classes, including on topics some may oppose.

Perhaps the reason why these prominent conservatives are arguing against the basic premise of Janus is that they know that when you enshrine ridiculous arguments like this into the law, it does much to undermine people’s faith in our legal institutions and our political system. Thus, we have gone so far to the right politically in our national government and in the highest court, that even conservatives are unsettled by the way the law is being distorted to fit particular ideological biases.

… it is a court that has made it clear they believe, along with the first justice of the Supreme Court, John Jay, that “those who own the country ought to govern it.”

It is also unlikely that most Americans if they had a say in the matter, would agree that “money is speech” or that there was any noble right at stake when the Court ruled in favor of unlimited corporate campaign spending in the Citizens United case. One might also reasonably assume that not many Americans are too sanguine about the corrosive effect this rigging of our political system has had on our democracy.

But, of course, none of this is the concern of the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, who most observers believe will rule against public sector unions in this case, further stacking the deck against ordinary Americans.

That’s why, despite the embarrassing daily circus, the billionaire class is happy with the results they have gotten so far from Trump. The tax cut will further enrich them and, far more importantly, the new majority on the Court will protect their economic and political interests for years to come. This high court is the refuge of the minority of the opulent guarding against the interests of the majority; it is a court that has made it clear they believe, along with the first justice of the Supreme Court, John Jay, that “those who own the country ought to govern it.”

If one wants a sense of what a continued weakening of labor and the power of American workers will result in for the foreseeable future, one need look no further than what the Trump Labor Department is making a top priority. As Inequality.org recently reported:

Trump labor officials sparked outrage late last year by proposing a reform that would allow bosses to pocket their employees’ tips. But even these unabashedly anti-labor labor officials were apparently too embarrassed to reveal just how much this rule change would harm restaurant servers and other tipped workers . . . The Economic Policy Institute estimates the proposal would result in employers taking $5.8 billion in tips from workers. This would be a severe blow in an industry where abuse is already rampant. Employers of tipped workers are among the worst offenders in minimum wage violations, especially due to the subminimum tipped wage. Employers who pay a subminimum wage ($2.13 at the federal level) are technically required to ensure that tips bring employee wages up to at least the full minimum wage, but difficulties in enforcement result in high noncompliance rates.

And if they succeed in their ultimate goal of permanently dismantling the worker protections that the New Deal brought, there is a whole range of fresh assaults workers can expect across a wide variety of professions, both blue and white collar.

The bottom line here for the vast majority of Americans is that this Supreme Court decision is a key part of a larger war against not just unions but the notion that there should be any restraint against the unchecked power of the affluent and corporations. The folks who brought you Trump and the fifth conservative vote on the court want to take away the political and economic power of the people and make an already rigged system work against the interests of those of us who labor rather than own for our living. Simply put, they want to shut you up and pick your pocket.

Will you let them?

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