Weekly litigation report — February 23, 2019

February 22, 2019 | By JAMES BURLING

Never assume government competence
Following on the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which freed public employees from having to subsidize unions without their affirmative consent, the Court asked the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to consider how the Janus ruling affects attorneys forced to contribute to mandatory government-run bar associations. PLF filed this amicus brief in Fleck v. Wetch, arguing that earlier Supreme Court cases upholding mandatory bars assumed without evidence that such bars were the best way to regulate the legal profession. The travails of the California State Bar belied that assumption, and after years of failing to protect the public while spending members’ mandatory dues on perks and politicking, the state legislature finally had enough and split bar into a mandatory regulatory body and a voluntary trade association. Courts need not turn a blind eye to how the real world works. The principles in Janus and the inability or lack of desire of mandatory bars to protect members’ constitutional rights should spell the end for compelled association with government-run bar associations. For more, see our blog post here.

The best way to end discrimination is to stop discriminating
In Connecticut Parents Union v. Wentzell, PLF filed a complaint to stop Connecticut’s racial discrimination against students in the State’s world-class magnet schools. Connecticut law requires magnet schools to maintain an enrollment of at least 25% White or Asian and at most 75% Black or Hispanic. Schools that fail to maintain this hard racial quota face debilitating fines, which left at least one school with a 91% Black and Hispanic enrollment with no choice but to shut its doors. PLF believes the racial quota violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. This lawsuit aims to put an end to Connecticut’s discrimination and allow students to access their State’s best schools no matter their race. For more, see PLF’s blog post.

Supreme Court affirms constitutional protection from excessive fines
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court unanimously held in Timbs v. Indiana, that the Eighth Amendment restrains state and local governments—and not just the federal government—from imposing excessive fines. The court explained that the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause is a fundamental right, with deep roots in American history. Although the Eighth Amendment originally restrained only the federal government, the Fourteenth Amendment incorporated that protection to restrain state and local governments as well. Unfortunately, state and local governments still impose outlandish fines for even minor “offenses” like residential landscaping choices, as we explained in our friend-of-the-court brief. Another example we described was the imposition of a $4.2 million fine on a homeowner for allegedly blocking an unsafe path to the sea next to his home. The high court’s decision in Timbs is an important step toward ending such abusive use of fines. All Americans, especially our friends at Institute for Justice who litigated this case, should be proud. Read more.

A Failing Grade for Exclusive Representation
St. Cloud State University professor Kathleen Uradnik doesn’t belong to her university’s faculty labor union, and she doesn’t support their positions. But while she is free to speak with her political science students each day, if she wants to speak with her employer about her job, Minnesota law says she must let her university’s labor union do the talking. Professor Uradnik is fighting for her First Amendment rights at the Supreme Court, and this week PLF urged the Court to take the case in a friend of the court brief. PLF argues that exclusive representation silences workers, and that after Janus it is unacceptable to force a public employee to give any support to a union, regardless of whether it’s her money or her voice.