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Supreme Court Watch: Campaign Spending, Union Busting and the Subversion of the First Amendment
Posted on Mar 18, 2014
By Bill Blum
McCutcheon and Harris are important not only because they promise to perpetuate the court’s double standard on the First Amendment but because they threaten to extend it in new and unacceptable ways. If the McCutcheon plaintiffs prevail, the floodgates opened by Citizens United to independent expenditures by super PACs and shady nonprofit groups exempted from disclosing their donor lists—which exceeded $1 billion in 2012 and which conservative groups dominated by a better than 2-1 spending ratio—would give way to unlimited contributions straight to the coffers of candidates and their campaign committees. The accompanying long-term dangers to what remains of our democracy would expand exponentially.
A victory for the plaintiffs in Harris could be even more ominous. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of unionized wage and salary workers in our economy has dropped to 11.3 percent from 20.1 percent in 1983. The unionization rate in the private sector stands at an abysmal 6.7 percent. The public sector, by contrast, boasts a unionization rate of 35.3 percent.
Although the Knox decision was limited to fair share assessments levied on nonunion workers for political spending, a worst-case scenario ruling in Harris could easily build on Knox to outlaw all fair share fees as compelled speech. Such a ruling not only would cripple public unions financially but would open the door to further legal challenges to the basic rights of government employees to join unions to act as their exclusive workplace representatives.
The Harris case thus portends a full-blown assault on public sector unions, the last bastion of organized labor and arguably the last barrier to the long-cherished conservative dream of turning the entire country into one big right-to-work state in the mold of Mississippi, Alabama and Texas.
But will the conservative dream come to fruition? Will the Roberts court turn the First Amendment on its head in McCutcheon and Harris to advance the privileges of oligarchy at the expense of nearly everyone else? We should have an answer, perhaps, in a matter of days.
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