When the Solicitor General asks the Supreme Court for permission to participate in an oral argument as a friend of the court, the Court almost always says yes. But not this morning. In one of a series of routine summer orders issued today, the Court denied Acting SG Greg Garre's request for time to argue in Locke v. Karass, the latest in a series of legal disputes over the use of mandatory union dues.
"It's a nice slap in the face to the solicitor general, and it's well-deserved," says Stefan Gleason of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. The foundation represents Daniel Locke and 19 other Maine state employees who are not members of the state employees' union. They do not pay full union dues but do pay a lesser "agency fee" to cover their share of the costs of collective bargaining from which they benefit. The employees in this case claimed that a portion of their fees were also being improperly put toward the costs of unrelated litigation by the national Service Employees International Union.
Earlier this year the solicitor general filed a brief supporting neither side in the case, arguing that the employees' fees cannot go to fund litigation by other union units, but that the fees can be used in a pooling arrangement that pays for outside litigation that benefits their own unit. When it asked for 10 minutes of argument time, it sought five minutes from each side.
It may come as a surprise, but Gleason's foundation viewed the government's position as yet another example of the Bush Administration doing the bidding of labor unions in disputes over mandatory union fees, and it filed a brief opposing the government's request for argument time. The foundation noted that 17 of the 22 pages of the SG's brief favored the union position. It also argued the Maine case is a dispute over state law, so the federal government has no stake. "We're quite disturbed that the administration jumped into the case in the first place," says Gleason. "Their participation in the argument would not be helpful."
The Supreme Court apparently agreed, though it did not explain its rejection of the government's request. The Justice Department had no comment.