K-12 and the U.S. Supreme Court: Highlights of the 2017-18 Term
The standout case for educators was Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31, which stripped teacher and other public employee unions of the right to collect agency fees from nonmembers, overturning a decades-old high court precedent. The aftershocks are expected to continue.
That ruling was issued the last day of the term, June 27, the same day that Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a highly influential moderate-conservative at the center of the U.S. Supreme Court for three decades, announced his retirement. In his time on the court, Kennedy wrote major opinions on race, religion, and other areas of public education.
Here’s a summary of opinions on issues of interest to K-12 educators this term, including union rights, a variety of First Amendment issues, and cases with implications for school funding and immigration.
Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31: In a long-anticipated decision, the court ruled 5-4 to overrule a 41-year-old precedent that allowed the teachers’ unions and other public-employee labor organizations to collect fees for collective bargaining from workers who decline to join the union. The justices also ruled that workers must affirmatively opt into the union before fees can be taken out of their paychecks.
South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc.: In a decision that is likely to boost the coffers of states as well as school districts, the court allowed states to require out-of-state retailers to collect sales taxes on Internet purchases. The justices overruled two precedents, from 1967 and 1992, that had required sellers to have a physical presence in the state before facing tax collection. States, cities, and school districts were missing out on as much as $34 billion per year.
Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, Fla.: Educators were watching the case of a persistent gadfly speaker at city council meetings who was arrested when the presiding council member sought to cut him off during a public comment period and Lozman refused to leave. The high court reinstated the man’s civil lawsuit on narrow grounds, and did not decide whether the existence of probable cause on the part of the police in such situations automatically bars a civil suit for First Amendment retaliation. But the court did stress that the right to petition the government ranks “high in the hierarchy of First Amendment values.”
Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission: In a case that was watched by many in education, including teachers’ unions and religious colleges, the court ruled that the civil rights panel had violated the religious rights of a baker who had refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The decision, however, sidestepped the larger questions about conflicts between religious rights and government protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky: The justices struck down Minnesota’s ban on political apparel at polling places in a First Amendment case with implications for free speech restrictions in public schools. The court suggested that states could restrict expressive apparel at polling places, which are less “mundane” forums than schools. But Minnesota’s restrictions on issue-oriented messages were not reasonable, the court said.
Trump v. Hawaii: Teachers’ unions, colleges and universities, and many higher education groups had weighed in on this case, in which the court ruled 5-4 to uphold President Donald Trump’s restrictions on travel to the United States from five predominantly Muslim countries. The advocacy groups had joined briefs arguing that the policy represents discrimination based on religion and hampers international study. But the court held that the entry ban was a valid exercise of the president’s broad authority to regulate immigration and that the government set forth a sufficient national security justification to survive the claim that the president’s anti-Muslim statements led the policy to violate the First Amendment’s prohibition against government establishment of religion.
Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association: The court struck down a federal law aimed at stopping the spread of sports betting, in a case that was watched in higher education and among advocates who fear the effects of gambling on the nation’s youth. The court said the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which barred the states from authorizing sports wagering, violates a principle outlined by the high court against “commandeering,” or directing the states to pass a particular law.
Vol. 37, Issue 37, Page 20Published in Print: July 17, 2018, as U.S. Supreme Court and Schools: 2017-18