30 June 2014

Law in Plain English: Harris v. Quinn

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogHarris v. Quinn

Argument: Jan 21 2014 (Aud.)

Background: Pamela Harris and others provide in-home care to disabled individuals through Medicaid-waiver programs run by the Illinois Department of Human Services. Some are part of the Home Services Program administered by the Division of Rehabilitation Services ("Rehabilitation Program"). The others are part of the Home Based Support Services Program administered by the Division of Developmental Disabilities ("Disabilities Program").

In 2003, a majority of the approximately 20,000 Rehabilitation Program personal assistants voted to designate SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana as their collective bargaining representative with the State. The Union and the State negotiated a collective bargaining agreement, including a "fair share" provision requires "all Personal Assistants who are not members of the Union...to pay their proportionate share of the costs of the collective bargaining process, contract administration and pursuing matters affecting wages, hours and other conditions of employment." Harris and the others allege that a collective bargaining agreement that requires Medicaid home-care personal assistants to pay a fee to a union representative violates the First Amendment. The Seventh Circuit held that that personal assistants in the Illinois home-care Medicaid waiver program were State employees that may be compelled to support legitimate, non-ideological, union activities germane to collective-bargaining representation.

The Disabilities Program plaintiffs successfully rejected unionization and were not subject to fair share fees, but feared that may change at any time. The Seventh Circuit dismissed the Disabilities Program plaintiffs' claims for lack of jurisdiction because they were not ripe for adjudication.

Issue: The questions before the Court are (1) whether a state may, consistent with the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, compel personal care providers to accept and financially support a private organization as their exclusive representative to petition the state for greater reimbursements from its Medicaid programs; and (2) whether the lower court erred in holding that the claims of providers in the Home Based Support Services Program are not ripe for judicial review.

Holding: In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment prohibits the collection of an agency fee from Rehabilitation Program PAs who do not want to join or support the union.
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