Cornell Law Review Volume 98 Issue 5

Political Speech and Association Rights After Knox v. SEIU, Local 1000

In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, and other recent cases, the Supreme Court has given organizations a newly robust First Amendment right to use the entity’s money in ways that stakeholders within the organization may find anathema and to discriminate against employees and members in order to advance the expressive interest of the entity. Yet, in 2012, the Court held in Knox v. Service Employees International Union, Local 1000 that a labor union violates the First Amendment rights of dissenters if it levies a special assessment for political speech without first having dissenters opt in. The Court’s jurisprudence on associational speech lacks any theory of when and why an organization’s speech violates the rights of dissenters. Nor does it consider what kind of internal organizational governance mechanisms are necessary to ensure a fair allocation of speech protections between those who wish the organization to promote one message and those who wish it to promote another. Moreover, the majority in Knox casts First Amendment doubt on the validity of the entire concept of collective bargaining by a union elected by a majority to represent all employees in a bargaining unit of government employees. As ballot measures in various states have been enacted or are pending that limit the rights of unions to raise and spend money on politics in the name of protecting dissident employees, a principled approach to the free speech rights of unions, corporations, and other associations is ever more needed.

In this Article, we offer an approach to reconciling the First Amendment expressive interests of organizations with the expressive interests of dissenting stakeholders within them. We suggest an approach to resolving the inconsistency between Citizens United, the union-dues cases, and the Court’s other compelled speech and associational speech jurisprudence. Contrary to the prevailing wisdom, we suggest not that shareholders be given the opt-out (or opt-in) rights of dissenting union employees but instead that unions be given the same broad speech rights as corporations to finance political activity with dues and fees paid by all employees.

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