Ellis v. Brotherhood of Railway, Airline & Steamship Clerks, Freight Handlers, Express & Station Employes

RESPONDENT: Brotherhood of Railway, Airline & Steamship Clerks, Freight Handlers, Express & Station Employes
LOCATION: Board of Immigration Appeals

DOCKET NO.: 82-1150
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 466 US 435 (1984)
ARGUED: Jan 09, 1984
DECIDED: Apr 25, 1984

Laurence Stephen Gold - on behalf of the Respondents
Michael E. Merrill - on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case


Media for Ellis v. Brotherhood of Railway, Airline & Steamship Clerks, Freight Handlers, Express & Station Employes

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 09, 1984 in Ellis v. Brotherhood of Railway, Airline & Steamship Clerks, Freight Handlers, Express & Station Employes

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Howard Ellis against Brotherhood of Railway, Airline, and Steamship Clerks, Freight Handlers, Express and Station Employees, et al.--

Mr. Merrill, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Michael E. Merrill:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, a familiar presence is in the Court today, the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks.

It was here in Street.

It was here in Allen.

And it now commences its thirty-third year of litigation against employees whom it represents, disputing the use of compulsory fees obtained from those employees.

The Ellis and Failes cases before the Court today--

Byron R. White:

Do the other unions just defer to you, or--

Michael E. Merrill:

--It is sometimes not pleasant to be special, Your Honor.

The Ellis and Failes cases present the record which has eluded this Court in the past, and permit the Court to issue rulings upon these vital issues: first, the extent of the union's entitlement to the use of compulsory dues and fees obtained from dissenting employees; second, the standard of proof the union must meet to justify those charges; third, the remedy for dissenting employees whose fees have been or will be misspent.

In this case, we have a hierarchy of interests, that of the petitioners, the fundamental individual First Amendment rights of free speech and association.

Those rights have existed since the Republic was founded.

On the union hand, we have a recently enacted statutory privilege.

The union's interest is a monetary interest only.

When those two rights are juxtaposed, it is clear that the First Amendment interests of the petitioners must override, absent a compelling governmental necessity for giving sway to the union's property interest.

William H. Rehnquist:

--Mr. Merrill, are you saying that any time the individual says something that is done to him violates the First Amendment and the person who is violating the First Amendment or alleged to is interested primarily in the financial outcome, that that automatically decides the case?

Michael E. Merrill:

Justice Rehnquist, I do not make that assertion.

We do assert, consistent with Abood, that when a union obtaining money under the force of federal statute uses that money in a way that would otherwise impinge upon associational or expression rights, that that must be... must uphold... that use must meet constitutional standards of the First Amendment.

Interpreting the statutory scheme here, the Railway Labor Act, must be done from the standpoint of viewing it with strict scrutiny.

We must ascertain what Congress sought to accomplish in passing this statute.

We have dependable guidance in making that journey in the decisions of this Court, in the Street case, in the Allen case, and in Abood.

In the latter case, this Court has ruled that the First Amendment sweeps broadly in a context of compulsory dues litigation, that it extends to encompass social interests, economic and philosophical interests, literary interests, and, of course, political and ideological interests of employees.

As noted, there must be a compelling justification to intrude upon those rights and those interests.

In addition, using established First Amendment principles, the means selected by Congress to accomplish the governmental purpose must impose the minimum burden on plaintiff's constitutional freedoms.

Now, the specific Congressional purpose authorized and not commanded in the 1951 amendments to this statute was that of obtaining payment for specific services.

It was to pay a union representing employees in a specific collective bargaining context for the acts of the union as a negotiating agent, and for its services in administering that contract, and in handling and prosecuting grievances of employees arising under that contract.

Again, we have many decisions of this Court which make it plain that the procedure used to protect the union's interests in this case, that of obtaining money from the plaintiffs, must be drawn in such a fashion so as not to sacrifice the overriding constitutional interests of the petitioners.

As the Court analyzes this case, it is of extreme importance to remember that the union wears two hats.

The first of those hats, which existed long prior to the occurrence of the statute giving rise to this controversy, is that of a voluntary fraternal organization.

As a fraternal organization, BRAC can do anything it chooses.