Late June has become a time of terror for anyone on the left. These early days of summer are traditionally the last of the Supreme Court’s term, and at a time when the Court is dominated by Republican appointees, Democrats, liberals, and leftists alike often spend the last week of June dreading what the Court is about to do to health care, workers, and the rights of women or racial minorities.
This June, however, was different. With the Court down a justice for most of the last year, its members avoided most politically charged cases that were likely to produce a 4-4 split. Compared to past terms, the last year at the Supreme Court was relatively boring. The term’s biggest decisions—an erosion of the separation of church and state and a lamentable decision to temporarily reinstate parts of Trump’s Muslim ban—both were decided after Republicans placed someone in the Court’s final seat.
Remember how good this boredom feels, because it won’t last. With Neil Gorsuch now occupying the seat that Republicans held open more than a year until Donald Trump could fill it, the next term will not be boring at all. And the Court’s Republican majority has a familiar target in its sights: the American worker
Last year, many of America’s unions had a near-death experience.
In January of 2016, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that sought to starve public sector unions of the money they need to operate. The arguments before the justices seemed to herald an impending disaster for the unions, with Anthony Kennedy—the closest thing to a swing vote—appearing visibly angered by some of the pro-union arguments presented to the Court. After the arguments phase, there was little doubt that organized labor would lose in a 5-4 decision that threatened many unions’ ability to operate.
Then Antonin Scalia died.
Without Scalia to cast the fifth vote against labor, the justices split 4-4 in Friedrichs and the threat to unions seemed to have passed.
Now, however, Gorsuch occupies Scalia’s old seat. And Gorsuch is, if anything, well to Scalia’s right. The Supreme Court’s war on unions, in other words, will now resume. And there’s already a case in the works that will allow the Court’s Republican majority to pick up where it left off in early 2016.