Trump Pick for Supreme Court Could Devastate California Teachers Association

Rebecca FriedrichsWhile it may not be immediately apparent, Donald Trump’s victory in last week’s presidential election has deep implications for the balance of political power in California. Because of his win, there could soon be a fifth vote on the U. S. Supreme Court – again – to conclude that teachers at California public schools can’t be compelled to pay union dues to the California Teachers Association in support of political activities with which they disagree.

These dues have made the CTA arguably the most powerful force in state politics, able to win passage of bills increasing taxpayer funding for the state teachers’ pension system, protecting teachers’ jobs and making it difficult for their performance to be evaluated. A Fair Political Practices Commission report found that the CTA and affiliated entitiesspent $212 million to influence state politics from 2000-2009. Dues vary but are generally around $1,000 a year for the CTA’s 325,000 members.

At a January hearing in the Friedrichs v. CTA case, five justices – conservatives Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito and libertarian swing voter Anthony Kennedy – appeared poised to allow teachers to opt out of CTA dues.

But in February, Scalia died. In March, the court deadlocked 4-4 on the case, and in June, it declined to hear the case again in the term that began in October.

Trump has promised to appoint a justice with Scalia-like views as his replacement. That presumably would mean five votes to put limits on what public employee union dues could be used for.

Are dues solely used for collective bargaining or not?

The case was brought in 2013 by the libertarian-leaning Center for Individual Rights on behalf of Rebecca Friedrichs, an Orange County schoolteacher (pictured above), and other teachers who object to the CTA’s agenda and reject the claim that their dues were being used for “collective bargaining” purposes only.

The center is expected to start the ball rolling again for a new federal trial, and eventual Supreme Court review, in coming months. It’s not clear whether Friedrichs will again be the plaintiff, but there’s a broad assumption that the CTA — labelled “the worst union in America” by conservative publication City Journal — will again be the target.

As California Lawyer magazine detailed last year, conservative federal judges — not just those on the Supreme Court — seem eager to expedite the challenge to union members’ objections to political uses of their dues. Both trial court and appellate judges went along with plaintiffs’ request that the Friedrichs case be rejected based on precedent — specifically, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, a 1977 Supreme Court ruling upholding compulsory union dues. This request was made to get the case before the high court as soon as possible.

There is little doubt that several justices are eager to scrap the precedent.

At the January hearing on the Friedrichs case, Kennedy ridiculed the argument that compelling teachers to pay union dues that were used to advocate political views they didn’t share was no big deal because those teachers could advocate for their views in other ways.

The contention that upholding Friedrichs’ challenge would destroy public employee unions also was subject to sharp challenge by justices who noted that federal employees’ unions didn’t charge “agency fees” but were able to effectively bargain on pay and benefits.

The four justices who voted to reject the Friedrichs case and side with the CTA criticized what they saw as an unseemly eagerness to reject long-held precedent. They noted that the Abood case’s finding had been challenged repeatedly over the last four decades and had only faced high court doubts in recent years.

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SCOTUS Showdown: Obama’s Dysfunctional Relationship With Congress

SCOTUSbuilding_1st_Street_SEAfter this week’s news that Republican Senate leaders will not even consider any Supreme Court nominee until a new president is in office, current President Obama is taking it to the streets in an effort to get his yet unnamed pick approved. Or at least to make some much-needed political hay.

In a guest column on the acronymically-named SCOTUSblog, Obama makes his case that he will do his constitutional duty by naming an appointment and he expects the Senate will do the same by giving the Obama nominee a fair hearing and, at least in Obama’s world, the thumbs up in an up-or-down vote.

The president’s implication is that he is fulfilling his duty while a Republican Senate contingent which has clearly stated it will not act on a Supreme Court replacement for Justice Scalia until the next president is in office, would be guilty of a dereliction of duty. If you read between the lines, it almost could be an admonition straight out of Gilbert and Sullivan: “He has done his duty. I will do mine. Go ye and do yours.”

Obama talks about his putative nominee’s virtuous qualities: fierce independence; understanding the role of the judiciary in interpreting, not making law; a keen intellect; faultless integrity. Of course. But let’s cut through the crap. At this stage it’s all political posturing. On both sides.

And in some ways, the president’s predicament reminds me of situations faced by the kids in my high school forensics class who after getting busted by the teacher for some infraction or other were faced with detention or another equally odious punishment. In such situations, Bonnie Miller’s response was invariably the same: “Sorry, hon, you did it to yourself.”

In the past, we have heard criticisms from the White House when Congress passed bills which the president had signaled he would veto. On such occasions it was as if one could hear in the background of the White House declarations Seinfeld’s Larry Thomas deliver one of his lesser-known classic lines with gusto: “Please, you’re wasting everyone’s time.” The president would then go on to veto the bill in question with a slight head-shake, as if to say “kids will be kids.”

On a number of occasions, if the president wanted to be spared the inconvenience of a veto, he got his Senate acolytes to use the filibuster. In this way, for example, he was able to see his recent Iran deal sail through, despite majority opposition in both houses of Congress. While the deal was voted down by the House, it failed to get an up-or-down vote in the Senate.

At that time, of course, it was the Republican Senate leadership which decried the Democrats’ use of the filibuster. As a key element of American foreign policy, the Iran deal, they claimed, deserved a full hearing and an up-or-down vote. The Democrats not only responded with the “waste of time” argument, but also suggested that the use of the filibuster was simply yet another way in which – through their duly elected Senators – the people of the United States were speaking. Sorry, Republicans, you didn’t have the votes. Next!

Now that the shoe is on the other foot, Democrats are crying “Foul!” and trying parse the differences between their own use of the filibuster and the Republicans’ unwillingness to consider any Obama SCOTUS nominee, which is in itself a form of filibuster.

“Ah, but the filibuster is often used when it comes to legislation. It is unprecedented when it comes to Supreme Court nominees.”

This is sheer nonsense, and it is all political game-playing within the wacky, arcane set of rules the Senate in all its old-school glory sets for itself. When you change those rules, as for instance when the Democrats under then-Majority Leader Harry Reid used the “nuclear option” to eliminate the filibuster for lower court nominees, don’t be surprised when the new rules are used against you if ever that shoe moves feet. And be even less surprised when the existing rules are used against you. You’re all playing by the same rules, unless, of course, you change them.

Let me make it clear: I personally believe the Republicans in the Senate should give any Obama nominee a hearing (though I do not feel their “advise and consent” role obligates them to an up-or-down vote). If anything, the Republicans are playing within those old-school rules which allow them to make a decision without actually voting on it. They are not changing the rules, as the Democrats did when they used the nuclear option.

Now it is the president who is on notice that his nominee has no chance of clearing the Senate, as the Senate exercises its constitutionally mandated “advise and consent” role. In this case of reversed fortunes, it is the Senate which effectively is threatening a veto. And yet, just as the Republicans in Congress don’t always pay heed to the president’s veto threat when it comes to legislation, the president himself seems undeterred by the Senate’s veto threat.

It’s a classic game of political chicken. This time the Republicans will want to frame the matter as one of the American People’s right to decide the matter through the upcoming presidential election; they will want to paint the president as “wasting time.”  The president will want to paint the Republicans as “obstructionist” and “derelict in their duties.” Each side will attempt to inflict the maximum amount of political damage on the other in this election year.

In a sense, the president is reaping what he has sowed through his inability to reach across the aisle during his 7+ years in office. Ultimately, the SCOTUS showdown and game-playing are nothing more than a symptom of his dysfunctional relationship with the Republicans in Congress, which has been exacerbated by his own abuse of executive orders. In short: how can Republicans in Congress trust the president to pick a justice who understands the Supreme Court’s constitutionally mandated role when he himself doesn’t seem to understand his own?

Just as Republicans shouldn’t be surprised when the president follows through with a threatened veto, so should the president not be surprised when the Senate, led by the Republicans, exercises its veto. The immortal words of Bonnie Miller seem to ring truer than ever before.

John Mirisch has served on the Beverly Hills City Council since 2009.  He is currently Vice Mayor and will become Mayor next month.  In a previous turn as Mayor he created the Sunshine Task Force to increase transparency and public engagement in local government.

Comity is Dead – A Reflection on the Supreme Court Vacancy

Photo courtesy Envios, flickr

Photo courtesy Envios, flickr

We began this drama with Republicans suggesting there will be no action on any Obama nomination, followed by Democratic outrage.

I have been convinced all along that the Senate will not go down that path; it would be too easy for the Democrats to portray inaction as a willful refusal to do a task required by the Constitution, and thus even worse than the government shutdown.  That could cost the GOP control of the Senate in November, which will be decided by a handful of races, most likely the open seats in Nevada and Florida.

But a vote by the 54 GOP Senators to reject the nomination is more likely and far more justifiable. Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Grassley signaled in his interview on Tuesday that he would consider holding hearings, at least hinting at that strategy.


Despite the many predictions that the court vacancy and deadlock will be a winning issue for Democrats this year, the issue may benefit Republicans just as much. In the opening primaries, the energy on the right was very high (see record turnout in Iowa), and conservatives have long emphasized the importance of the court majority as the last line of defense of their views.  And in general, the side that fears losing something it now has will always be the most passionate – and that is the conservatives. A new liberal justice could, among other things, overturn the Second Amendment right to gun ownership. But it seems unlikely that replacing Scalia with a like-minded jurist would lead to the end of abortion rights or other existing freedoms.

Republicans need to talk about the context behind their strategy. President Obama spent all of 2015 expanding the reach of the Imperial Presidency beyond anything Richard Nixon ever did. His foreign policy initiatives, such as restoration of relations with Cuba, are more defensible, given that presidents have their greatest power in foreign affairs, but he is on shakier ground with his domestic “orders.” His immigration policy and coal rules represent a much broader assertion of new powers, and are being challenged in the lower federal courts, with mixed results so far.

The president believes he has a mandate to enact his views, and despite losing a net of 69 House and 14 Senate seats since 2009, he has basically said, “I’m doing what I believe in because Congress will not act.”

The Senate response is then to reciprocate by voting no on any nominee, which is an explicitly granted constitutional power. It is the same kind of maximalist posture that the president has been employing for a year. So we can say with certainty that comity among the branches of government is dead.

Republicans also need to bring up the history. Democratic politicians insist that a president has the right to have a qualified nominee confirmed. Yet while there has been occasional mention of the 1968 rejection by a Democratic Senate of Abe Fortas, everyone seems to have forgotten the 1987 nomination of Robert Bork, which was rejected on ideological grounds by a Democratic Senate.


If any nominee is doomed, that means candidates for the most prestigious and important legal body in the world are now being weighed and measured on how they will boost election turnout among certain groups – e.g., will Hillary Clinton get a larger boost in key states from an African American or a Latino nominee? That is a sad state of affairs indeed.

This has led many to predict that an African American woman will be chosen. Names floated include Attorney General Kamala Harris and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the federal District Court in D.C. And if it were up to me, I might push for Justice Leondra Kruger of the California Supreme Court, who used to work in the Obama administration.

However, the early leader in the speculation derby was Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who has the advantage of having been fully vetted by the Senate.

But court watchers have noted a problem. We know Senate Judiciary will ask for every conceivable piece of information on a nominee, in the hopes of finding something that will make a rejection easy. And the incumbent AG may have internal documents that directly address discussions of or investigations into Benghazi, the email servers or the Clinton Foundation.

If such documents exist, they might reflect unfavorably on Secretary Clinton, or might make it appear DoJ has shown favoritism in its investigations. Justice would then have to choose between withholding the material, giving the Senate a reason to reject Lynch, or releasing it, at a potential cost to Mrs. Clinton.

The other choice facing the president is moderate or firebrand? Most seem to think he will avoid the firebrands – no Sen. Elizabeth Warren types – as that offers the best chance of political success.

Choosing a nominee known to stand for overturning 5-4 decisions that absolutely infuriate the left, especially the Heller case establishing an individual right to gun ownership and the Citizens United decision on campaign spending, will help motivate and turn out core Democrats. But an activist nominee eager to overturn recent rulings could be more easily rejected as someone who lacked the appropriate judicial temperament.

The alternative approach would be to nominate a judge whose views are less known and/or more moderate, and who ideally has already been confirmed. While her defeat would be less motivating to the Bernie Sanders demographic, it would allow Democrats to attack the GOP all year as rejecting a qualified woman for purely political reasons (and perhaps throw in accusations of racism as well). That does seem like a winning strategy for the president. But who knows? If there’s one thing we can count on this election cycle, it’s that what we think we know turns out to be wrong.

Lawrence Molton is an attorney and political consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Mainstream Misdirection in SCOTUS Search


Photo courtesy Envios, flickr

Photo courtesy Envios, flickr

Antonin Scalia’s death has begun a new Supreme Court battle. And much of it will be expressed in terms of whether nominees are “mainstream” or not.

Senator Charles Schumer already demonstrated this pattern. In 2007, he said any Bush nominee “must prove … that they are in the mainstream rather than we have to prove that they are not,” but has now doubled down in the opposite direction, saying, “many of the mainstream Republicans, when the president nominates a mainstream nominee, will not want to follow Mitch McConnell over the cliff.”

Why so much mainstream rhetoric? To be in it sounds good; to be out of it sounds bad. But it rests on a distorting analogy.

The analogy equates mainstream to “normal,” or majority, views. They are then further equated to “correct” views. But while majorities choose representatives, our Constitution was far from majority rule (“mob rule,” to many founders). It put many choices off-limits to political determination, and subjected others to very stringent standards. In short, it defended liberty against government encroachment. This is especially critical in evaluating justices, whose primary role is preserving the Constitution against majority abuses.

The analogy presumes a speaker’s mainstream evaluation is accurate. But where the mainstream is and how far from its supposed center is acceptable are indefinable.

The core issue is not, then, about being in the current mainstream, but where that mainstream should be. Advocating respecting the Constitution as written, as Scalia was famous for, focused on that.

That is, the mainstream may be in the wrong place. It has clearly changed in our country, but only because some were out of the previous mainstream. Men being created equal, with inalienable rights against government abuse, is far from the once mainstream belief in the divine right of kings. And our Bill of Rights freedoms to speak, write and worship as we choose, and to have our property protected from government predation, were not always mainstream.

Federalist 78, America’s most famous statement of the judiciary’s role, reveals that the political mainstream has indeed jumped its constitutionally enumerated banks, arguing for re-routing it toward its original course: “A limited Constitution…can be preserved in practice no other way than through…courts of justice, whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void. Without this, all the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing.”  Further, “whenever a particular statute contravenes the Constitution, it will be the duty of the judicial tribunals to adhere to the latter…to guard the Constitution and the rights of individuals.”

If the mainstream has moved from its original American course, only those now out of it can shift it back. For example, the now-common view that using government to rob Peter to pay Paul is acceptable means anyone acting to undo such policies would be outside today’s mainstream, though not that of our founders. As Jefferson said, “The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and…breaks up the foundations of society.”

In fact, “out of the mainstream” nominees are the only ones who might resist further expanding government encroachment or even reclaim eviscerated freedoms once taken for granted. In contrast, those recently advocated as mainstream have enabled “new and improved” encroachments.

Expanding the divide between the Constitution and current interpretation increasingly threatens our founders’ mainstream belief in liberty and the Constitution they designed to defend it. Consequently, advocates for the modern mainstream are opposing the mainstream that made America great. That is why Antonin Scalia fought vigorously for our founders’ understanding. It is also why Americans don’t need more justices from the modern mainstream, but more from its original channel.

Gary M. Galles is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University. His books include Lines of Liberty (2015), Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014) and Apostle of Peace (2013).

Strict SF Gun Laws Survive Challenge in Courts

GunContinuing its reticence to reach beyond a landmark decision seven years ago, the Supreme Court handed a victory to tight regulations on gun use in San Francisco.

Twin ordinances

“The court on Monday let stand court rulings in favor of a city measure that requires handgun owners to secure weapons in their homes by storing them in a locker, keeping them on their bodies or applying trigger locks,” the Associated Press reported. “A second ordinance bans the sale of ammunition that expands on impact, has ‘no sporting purpose’ and is commonly referred to as hollow-point bullets.” The first ordinance passed in 2007; the second, in 1994.

The NRA and gun rights advocates had expected that the court’s 2008 decision in the District of Columbia v. Heller gave them a strong chance at overcoming the regulations. “Gun owners challenged both ordinances after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the Constitution guarantees the right to possess guns at home for self-defense, then ruled in 2010 that state and local laws that substantially burdened that right were invalid,” observed the San Francisco Chronicle. “Gun groups are also relying on those rulings to challenge California’s licensing requirements for concealed weapons, and ordinances in San Francisco and Sunnyvale that ban the possession of high-capacity gun magazines.”

Failure on appeal

As Bloomberg reported, plaintiffs were convinced “that the San Francisco law was similar to the Washington, D.C., trigger-lock requirement invalidated in the high court’s 2008 decision.” But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled against them, teeing up a showdown at the Supreme Court. “The Ninth Circuit Court held that the city had a legitimate purpose in applying laws that reduce the danger of guns,” Al Jazeera America recounted, “and that while it did burden the rights of gun owners, it didn’t burden them so much they couldn’t exercise the rights to self-defense enshrined in the Second Amendment.”

“‘The record contains ample evidence that storing handguns in a locked container reduces the risk of both accidental and intentional handgun-related deaths, including suicide,’ Circuit Judge Sandra S. Ikuta wrote in the court’s opinion in March of last year.”

Among Supreme Court Justices, however, only Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas signaled their willingness to take the case.

“In a six-page dissent, Thomas, joined by Scalia wrote that the San Francisco gun laws are ‘in serious tension with Heller‘ and that the prior court rulings had ‘failed to protect’ the Second Amendment,” National Public Radio noted. “San Francisco’s law allows residents to use their handguns for the purpose of self-defense, but it prohibits them from keeping those handguns operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense when not carried on the person,” according to Justice Thomas.

Mixed messages

Although some legal experts immediately noted that the court’s decision raised questions about just how much protection the Second Amendment now could afford, others noted the court’s recent decision to side with the NRA in a different case.

Just last month, the court drew acclaim from the NRA for its unanimous ruling that convicted felons could sell firearms confiscated by law enforcement.

“The decision came in response to a case involving former U.S. Border Patrol agent Tony Henderson,” Western Journalism reported, “whose 19 guns were confiscated by the FBI upon his arrest on drug charges.”

“Following his guilty plea, Henderson was a felon prohibited from possessing firearms; however, he did not want to simply lose the roughly $3,500 his gun collection was worth. He petitioned a lower court in an effort to allow a third party to take possession of the guns and attempt to sell them on his behalf. That effort was unsuccessful at every stage of appeal up to the Supreme Court level.”

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