FILE - Mark Janus

Mark Janus, the plaintiff in Janus vs. AFSCME

The U.S. Supreme Court's decisions are largely infallible under federal law.

That doesn't mean their decisions are always right constitutionally.

Justice Elena Kagan joined fellow liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg last week in raising concerns that the court's newly solidified conservative majority is undoing decades of legal precedent by overturning previous court decisions.

But what if a previous court decision is clearly wrong under the U.S. Constitution?

Even the Supreme Court makes mistakes, and those mistakes should be corrected.

Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of one of those legal corrections.

On June 27, 2018, the Supreme Court overturned 1977's decision in Abood vs. the Detroit Board of Education that allowed public employee unions to force workers to pay fees to the union even if they didn't want to join.

In Janus vs. AFSCME, the court correctly decided such forced union fees violated individuals' First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and association.

It was an historic day that re-established the rights of millions of government workers to decide for themselves whether to associate with a union.

"Let's face it, this was a victory for workers rights' and freedom of speech," Mark Janus, whose name will forever be connected to the case, said this week. "I was the plaintiff on the case, but it wasn’t just for me. It was for 5 million other public sector workers."

Janus was a child support specialist for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. For about a decade, he was forced to pay AFSCME Council 31 a part of his salary even though he declined to join the union and disagreed with its politics – including its collective-bargaining position of demanding huge pay increases from a state that is broke.

Janus – who now is a senior fellow with the Liberty Justice Center, which represented him during his fight against forced AFSCME fees – filed suit and changed the law of the land.

His fight is not over, however.

Unions, and some state governments, are making it difficult for workers to realize their newly found freedom and opt out of paying union fees.

"Unfortunately, unions are obstructing," Janus said. "They want to keep representing people [who don't want them to]. They want to continue collecting workers' money. And they want to continue using that money for political speech that not everyone agrees with."

Liberty Justice Center senior associate attorney Daniel Suhr said his organization continues to fight for workers' rights in a number of states, including Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California and Hawaii.

Unions have set up roadblocks for workers to opt out, including establishing limited time frames when they can do so.

"A lot of our cases deal with what’s called an opt-out window, including the length of collective bargaining agreements" signed before the Janus case was decided, Suhr said.

Workers who should be able to opt out of union membership and paying union fees under the Janus vs. AFSCME decision still are being denied their constitutional rights.

"A right only exists if it’s defended or fought for," Janus said.

That's why Janus, Suhr and others are continuing that fight.

I can't say what other established legal precedents the new Supreme Court might overturn. But it did in Janus vs. AFSCME, and it got it right this time.

​Dan McCaleb is the executive editor of The Center Square. He welcomes your comments. Contact Dan at dmccaleb@thecentersquare.com.

Executive Editor

Dan McCaleb is a veteran editor and has worked in journalism for more than 25 years. Most recently, McCaleb served as editorial director of Shaw Media and the top editor of the award-winning Northwest Herald in suburban Chicago.