Political MoJo

Unions Should Brace Themselves for a Major Supreme Court Loss

| Thu Jun. 26, 2014 1:04 PM EDT

It's official: The Supreme Court will wait until Monday, the final day of the current term, to issue its decision in Harris v. Quinn. As I explained in May, Harris is a blockbuster case that could, in a worst-case scenario, wipe public-employee unions such as SEIU and AFSCME off the map. And the chances of a damaging decision in Harris just increased—here's why.

Heading into Thursday, the Supreme Court had Harris and three other cases left to decide. The justices chose to issue their opinions concerning presidential recess appointments (Noel Canning v. National Labor Relations Board) and so-called buffer zones keeping protesters at a distance from abortion clinics (McCullen v. Coakley). Justice Stephen Breyer, a liberal member of the court, wrote the Canning opinion; Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative, took the lead in McCullen.

This makes it more likely that Justice Samuel Alito, who we've yet to hear much from, will write the opinion in Harris, which points to bad news for public-employee unions. "There's almost no question [Justice] Alito has this opinion unless he lost his majority along way," tweets Rick Hasen, a University of California-Irvine law professor. "Anti-union is his signature issue."

Labor officials can only hope Hasen is wrong. Alito is strongly anti-union. In the 2012 case Knox v. SEIU, Alito essentially invited labor's foes to challenge the basic model of public-employee unionism, in which non-union employees can be made to pay dues to a union for bargaining on their behalf, representing them in grievance issues, etc. Harris makes such a challenge; it's what Alito asked for.

Unions like to call those non-member payments "fair share" dues. If it's the union's job, they reason, to represent all members and nonmembers in a unionized workplace, then all those workers should pay their fair share for that representation. Conservatives—and Alito—say fair-share fees violate the First Amendment rights of non-union workers.

The outcome in Harris could cut a number of ways. The Supreme Court could uphold the lower court's decision dismissing the suit—a big union victory. It could strike down fair share fees—the equivalent of Congress passing a national right-to-work bill. (Right-to-work laws ban unions from collecting those fair-share fees from non-members.) Public-employee unions would survive that decision, but it would be a blow. The court could also effectively enact right-to-work nationwide and kneecap a union's ability to exclusively represent employees in a unionized workplace. That would be catastrophic for public-employee unions.

If there's any judge who might go that far, it would be Samuel Alito.

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Read the Supreme Court's Decision Striking Down Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones

| Thu Jun. 26, 2014 10:52 AM EDT

Read our explainer of the Court's ruling here.

 

Read the Supreme Court's Decision on Obama's Recess Appointment Power

| Thu Jun. 26, 2014 10:17 AM EDT

On Thursday, the Supreme Court struck a blow to the president's ability to use recess appointments, rejecting his ability to sidestep pro-forma sessions of Congress. Read the court's full opinion below:

 

 

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 26, 2014

Thu Jun. 26, 2014 9:37 AM EDT

A US Marine trains to breathe underwater on an emergency air supply at the Marine Corps Base in Hawaii. (US Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Matthew Callahan)

Watch Two US Congressmen Battle Each Other With Prince Songs

| Wed Jun. 25, 2014 5:23 PM EDT

Wednesday marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Prince and The Revolution's album Purple Rain, the soundtrack to the 1984 film of the same name. So, obviously, at least a couple lawmakers were going to mark the occasion by singing and strumming Prince music.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a congressman from Prince's home state, picked up an acoustic guitar and sang a cover of "Purple Rain" (he got the lyrics wrong, but still). Here's a Vine of his Prince tribute:

Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) responded with his own acoustic Prince cover of "Raspberry Beret"—which isn't from Purple Rain, but whatever:

The two Democrats later expressed a desire to jam, possibly to Bruce Springsteen. Perhaps Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) can weigh in next with "Let's Go Crazy."

Prince did not respond to Mother Jones' request for comment on what he thought about the elected representatives doing battle with his songs as glorious weaponry.

Primary Rival Calls Top NSA Critic in the House "Al Qaeda's Best Friend"

| Wed Jun. 25, 2014 5:12 PM EDT

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) is facing a serious primary challenge from businessman Brian Ellis over the second-term congressman's frequent clashes with the Republican establishment. Amash lost his spot on the budget committee after voting against the Ryan budget, opposed John Boehner's bid for speaker, and led his party's far-right faction in forcing a government shutdown last fall. But it's Amash's opposition to the expansive national security and surveillance state that has drawn the fiercest backlash so far.

The latest example: this new ad from Ellis, featuring an ex-Marine calling Amash "Al Qaeda's best friend in Congress":

 

The quote originally came from Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), whose beef with Amash is longstanding. Ellis has received big bucks from his party's establishment donors, and Amash's Republican colleagues in the Michigan delegation have left him out to dry. But Amash, a charismatic disciple of former Rep. Ron Paul, has access to a rich grassroots fundraising network of his own, as well the generous support of the Club for Growth and the DeVos family, one of Michigan's most powerful political families.

Attack ads notwithstanding, Amash's efforts to build a bipartisan coalition to curtail the NSA appears to be working: Last week, the House voted—by a 170-vote margin—to rein warrantless "backdoor searches" of American citizens. And it doesn't appear to be hurting him in Southwest Michigan: A poll of the race from the Detroit News gave Amash a 55–35 lead.

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Common Core Opponents Send Oklahoma School Chief Packing

| Wed Jun. 25, 2014 5:04 PM EDT

Conservative activists came up short in some high-profile races on Tuesday. Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel unexpectedly lost his runoff against incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (thanks in part to high turnout among African-American voters turned off by McDaniel's positions). Former Rep. Tom Tancredo, famous for his fierce opposition to immigrants, blew a lead of his own in failing to win the GOP's Colorado gubernatorial nomination. Oklahoma speaker of the house T.W. Shannon, backed by reality star Sarah Palin and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Cruz), came up short in his quest to replace retiring Sen. Tom Coburn.

But it wasn't all bad news. In Colorado, former state Sen. Ken Buck—one of a handful of tea partiers whose views cost the party control of the Senate four years ago—punched his ticket to Washington by securing the nomination in a safe Republican congressional seat. And in Oklahoma, state school superintendent Janet Barresi lost her primary to conservative challenger Joy Hofmeister. Superintendent races don't normally capture the public's attention, but Barresi was an endangered species—a red-state Republican who supports the Common Core State Standards, a set of math and English benchmarks backed by the Obama administration and adopted by 43 states and the District of Columbia.

Per the McAlester (Okla.) News-Capital:

According to supporters, Hofmeister's victory was fueled by widespread antipathy for both Barresi and the Common Core standards. The Legislature voted to repeal Oklahoma’s endorsement of the national education standards, and Gov. Mary Fallin signed the repeal bill into law earlier this month.

"Doggone it, we worked hard and we’re going to get rid of that old hag. Barresi knows she’s getting her hat handed to her," said Karen Yates, a Tea Party member from Oklahoma City.

Barresi pumped more than $1 million dollars of her money into her campaign and outspent Hofmeister. In the meantime, Hofmeister bested the incumbent in fundraising, garnering much of her support from educators throughout the state.

Barresi isn't the first Republican school chief to go down in flames over the Core. In 2012, Indiana state superintendent Tony Bennett (no relation) lost to a Democratic critic of the standards; the state then became the first to reverse course on implementation. And the prospect of more electoral losses has made the Core's early GOP supporters nervous. Last week, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, once an avid support of the Core, announced new measures to de facto remove his state from the program by delaying testing and reevaluating the standards. Meanwhile, activists have taken aim at former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a supporter of Common Core who has made corporate education reform the centerpiece of his post-gubernatorial life.

Tuesday's news didn't have made much of a dent outside Oklahoma, but the aftershocks might be felt for much longer.

Read the Supreme Court's Unanimous Decision Telling Cops They Need a Warrant to Search Your Cellphone

| Wed Jun. 25, 2014 10:56 AM EDT

Read our explainer of the decision here.

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 25, 2014

Wed Jun. 25, 2014 9:32 AM EDT

Soldiers partner with community members in Augusta, Georgia for a physical readiness training event. Civilians get the chance to experience life in uniform. (US Army photo by Ashley Armstrong, 35th Signal Brigade Public Affairs)

Chris McDaniel Campaigns With Bizarre Obama Conspiracy Theorist

| Tue Jun. 24, 2014 6:21 PM EDT

Tea party favorite Chris McDaniel spent the final weekend before Tuesday's Mississippi Republican senatorial run-off campaigning with a conspiracy theorist who has alleged that President Barack Obama is a "Manchurian candidate" working as part of a secret plan to "destroy the country."

The remarks, first reported by Right Wing Watch, were made by former Libertarian presidential candidate Wayne Allyn Root who has been pushing this anti-Obama charge for years. This past weekend, Root—who was a classmate of the president at Columbia University—traveled throughout Mississippi on a bus paid for by the Tea Party Express and spoke at rallies in support of McDaniel, who is trying to defeat incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran in a hotly contested race. McDaniel accompanied the bus for three events this past weekend.

During a rally in Biloxi, McDaniel took the stage after Root fired up the crowd with his anti-Obama rant. At that event, Root noted that the shadowy effort dates back to the early 1980s:

It's a purposeful plan to wipe out America, capitalism, the middle class, and destroy American exceptionalism and Judeo-Christian values. How do I know? Listen to this, folks. Because I'm Barack Obama's college classmate, Columbia University class of '83. And when I was there at Columbia, we all studied a plan called Cloward–Piven—if you've ever watched Glenn Beck—Cloward–Piven. And we studied Saul Alinsky. And the plan was get someone elected president, who looks fantastic, who has a beautiful wife, a beautiful children. A family man. Get him to cut his afro or his long hair, his ponytail. Put on a suit, and then lie to everybody. Make sure they know he's a moderate, not a communist...and then destroy the country by overwhelming the system with spending, with taxes, with regulations, with debt, with entitlements, with food stamps. Overwhelm it until it collapses."

Root went on to explain the covert plan, suggesting that Obama didn't really attend Columbia:

We both graduated on the same day. We both graduated political science majors. We both graduated pre-law. And I knew every human being at Columbian University in the political science department. And they all knew me. Seven hundred students. One Reagan conservative—me. And 699 Marxist communists and socialists. And you know who I didn't know? Never met him, never heard of him, never saw him. Didn't know another student at Columbia who ever met him, knew him, or saw. Barack Hussein Obama! Isn't that amazing! Now I just got back from my 30th college reunion and I searched out every one of my classmates who ever knew Barack Obama. Not one. Ladies and gentlemen, our nation is now being run by the Manchurian candidate. The real-life Manchurian candidate.

Before and during the campaign, McDaniel has showed no reluctance to associate himself with advocates of extreme right-wing views. He has hobnobbed with neo-Confederates and anti-gay crusaders. None of this has become a campaign issue.