The court's decision to take up the case could set the stage for a potential big legal victory for proponents of employee choice and the so-called "right to work" against the labor unions they have accused of exploiting state-mandated fee collection powers to use the money to buy influence with politicians who set labor rules.
"Janus" is Mark Janus, an IL state employee who argues that he should not have to pay dues to the union to which he does not belong even if it represents him. Conservatives who rely on voluntary contributions can not begin to match the enormous revenues the teachers' unions extract by force from people who are legally compelled to pay them.
But Gorsuch's speech comes just days before the opening of the U.S. Supreme Court term in which Trump's administration has a stake in several major cases. Thus workers who object to their unions' political activities can pay "agency fees", which are significantly less than full union dues.
Scalia has since been replaced by another conservative, Republican President Donald Trump's appointee Neil Gorsuch, who legal experts believe would be sympathetic toward the challenge and likely to rule against the IL law.
The court's decision is due by June.
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The justices agreed to hear a case brought by a non-union government employee in IL that targets fees that his state and many others compel such workers to pay to unions in lieu of dues to fund collective bargaining and other organized labor activities. Eventually, unions risk becoming starved for funds and collapsing, causing the workers once represented by a union to lose the benefits of collective bargaining. Employer representatives and conservative lawmakers have said that the fees are an infringement on the speech rights of workers who don't want to associate with a union and the political positions unions often take.
Jacob Huebert, litigation director at the Liberty Justice Center - which represents Janus - said his client has a First Amendment right to support or not support political organizations.
The NEA has about 87,000 fee-payers.
Among the parties that brought the legal action is the William Penn School District in Delaware County. The public sector workforce was 34.4 percent unionized; the private sector unionization rate was 6.4 percent.
A 4-to-4 tie among the justices reverted the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld its earlier ruling in favor of the teachers' union. In this case the union collects dues only from members who join voluntarily, and crucially also represents only members.
The justices last week granted review in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31, which could affect the treasuries and political might of all public-employee unions, including the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and their state and local affiliates.
The merits of the case and the four-decade-long precedent are on their side, the unions said.