Locke v. Karass

PETITIONER:Daniel B. Locke, et al.
RESPONDENT:Edward A. Karass, State Controller, et al.
LOCATION: Maine State Employees Association

DOCKET NO.: 07-610
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 555 US (2009)
GRANTED: Feb 19, 2008
ARGUED: Oct 06, 2008
DECIDED: Jan 21, 2009

Jeremiah A. Collins – argued the cause for the respondents
W. James Young – argued the cause for the petitioners

Facts of the case

After the Maine State Employees Association (a union representing state workers) negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement for certain employees, nonmembers voiced their disapproval with the agreement’s requirement that they pay a “service fee” to the union as its exclusive bargaining agent. The service fee included an affiliation fee paid to the Service Employees International Union through a general pooling arrangement, meaning that the nonmembers were contributing funds to an affiliate for litigation not specifically for their own benefit. The nonmembers filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine claiming that the service fee violated their First amendment rights. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the union.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed, applying the Court’s decision inLehnert to determine that the nonmember employees’ First Amendment rights were not implicated by the service fee. Under theLehnert test, chargeable activities must (1) “be substantively related to bargaining and ultimately inure to the benefit of local union members, (2) be justified by the government’s vital policy interest in labor peace and avoiding free riders, and (3) not significantly add to the burdening of free speech that is inherent in the allowance of agency.”


Do union requirements that nonmember employees pay a service fee through a pooling arrangement, and used to fund litigation that may not specifically be for the benefit of those nonmembers, violate the First Amendment rights of those nonmember employees?

Media for Locke v. Karass

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 06, 2008 in Locke v. Karass

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – January 21, 2009 in Locke v. Karass

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Breyer has the opinion of the Court this morning in case 07-610, Locke versus Karass.

Stephen G. Breyer:

Under Maine state law, like a lot of state laws, if a government employee disagrees with and does not belong to the local union that represents that employee and all the others in the workplace, then the one who disagrees still has to pay the union something, a service fee instead of the union dues.

Now this Court has long held in principle that although there are certain exceptions, Government may require this kind of a payment without violating the First Amendment.

It’s not quite voluntary but still they can pay.

The union can charge them.

Now in this case, which is a kind of question I find that draw that line between what they can and cannot charge.

A local union charges the nonmembers a service fee that among other things reflects an affiliation fee that the local pays the national.

Now that affiliation fee that all the locals pay the national in turn has a component that the national uses in order to pay its lawyers.

So the question is whether, the local, when it charges the nonmembers their pro rata share of the dues, whether it can include a pro rata share of that part of the fee it’s going to pay the national that goes to paying the national’s lawyers’ litigation expenses.

That’s the question.

And the answer to the question in our view is yes, it can.

And there are two conditions.

First, it has to be that litigation that the national is involved in has to be the subject matter, has to be the kind that would be chargeable if local litigation by unions were at issue.

And second, the litigation involved, that kind of obligation that charged for the national, it has to be reciprocal in nature.

So the local that gives the money to the national has to expect that other locals will contribute to its problems that need to be resolved by litigation just as it is now contributing to the others.

But where those two things are concerned, subject matter is right and there is reciprocity, then the union can charge the nonmembers that money and our opinion explains why all that is so.

And we affirm the Court of Appeals’ decision which reached a similar conclusion.

Our decision is unanimous.

Justice Alito has filed the concurring opinion which the Chief Justice and Justice Scalia have joined.