Drama at Supreme Court During ‘Friedrichs’ Oral Arguments Was Blatantly Political

Have you noticed the political and ideological operation of the U.S. Supreme Court lately?  In case you need a refresher on this trend, in a fine Washington Post column, Dana Milbank takes us right inside the drama of the courtroom during Monday’s oral arguments on the teachers’ union case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.  Like others who sat in the courtroom during oral arguments, Milbank believes the court will decide against the interests of public employee unions—against the 99 percent and for the One Percent. (This blog examined the substance of this case and its origins yesterday.)

Milbank explains: “By all appearances at Monday’s argument, the five Republican-appointed justices are ready to upend a 40-year precedent guiding labor relations in favor of a new approach that will deplete public-sector unions’ finances and reduce their political clout.  The case, from California, involves arcane issues of ‘agency fees’ and member opt-outs, but make no mistake: This is about campaign finance, and in particular, propping up the Republican Party.”

Milbank is specific: “(T)he only real counterweight to Republican super PACs in this new era is union money.  And the Supreme Court is about to attack that, too.”  Remember that with 3.2 million members, the National Education Association is the nation’s largest union.  What the Supreme Court decides in this case will also affect other public employees’ unions—police, fire, the American Federation of Teachers,  AFSCME—the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and SEIU—the Service Employees International Union.

Milbank quotes the lawyer for the plaintiffs, Michael Carvin, who told the Court that a decision against the unions would not necessarily make anything adverse happen to the unions.  But when the attorney went outside after the session to speak with the press, he declared, “It may limit their revenue somewhat, but of course they can compensate for that by being less involved in things like politics.”

Milbank describes Justice Stephen Bryer’s reservations about the advisability of overturning previous Supreme Court precedents except in extreme situations: “Bryer reminded his colleagues that when the court jettisons precedent, it’s usually to right an egregious or basic wrong, such as the Plessy v. Ferguson precedent justifying segregation. ‘I don’t see anything too basic in the lines you’re drawing,’ he told Carvin.”  The attorney for the plaintiffs is described praising every one of the Court’s conservative majority and treating the Court’s three liberal woman with discourtesy: “Carvin frequently interrupted and talked over the three female justices…. (and) referred to the other side’s argument as the ‘so-called’ opposition….'”

Citizens United and other recent Court rulings created the modern era of super PACs and unlimited political contributions by the wealthy…” Milbank concludes. “(W)hat’s sinful and tyrannical is for billionaires to take over the electoral process and the government—and for the highest court in the land to take aim at he last remaining counterweight.”

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