Tapped: The Prospect Group Blog

Poll Shows Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders Flocking to Democratic Party

Record numbers of Asian American and Pacific Islanders are supporting the Democratic Party, according to a new survey of one of the country’s fastest growing demographic groups. Disenchanted with the rhetoric of Donald Trump and other Republican candidates, this key group of swing voters has taken a hard left turn, which may prove to be a key factor in the 2016 presidential race.

Trump fared poorly in the poll: 61 percent of Asians and Pacific Islanders held unfavorable views of the presumptive Republican nominee. On the Democratic side, 62 percent of those polled viewed Hillary Clinton favorably, compared with 48 percent for Bernie Sanders. The poll also found that voters preferred the Democratic Party in U.S. House and Senate races.

The poll, released on Monday, was conducted by Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote, and AAPI Data. The survey, conducted over landlines and cell phones from April 11 to May 17, tallied the responses of 1,212 Pacific Islander and Asian American registered of Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese descent. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.

The Democratic Party came out on top by a wide margin: 66 percent of Asians and Pacific Islanders surveyed had favorable views of the party; 28 percent of those polled had a favorable view of the Republican Party, a drop of 11 percentage points since 2014.

The survey found that Asian American and Pacific Islanders find topics such as education, health care, the threat of terrorist attacks, jobs and the economy, gun control, retirement security, and the environment as “extremely important election-related issues.” Moreover, the voters surveyed believe that the Democratic Party holds a “sizable advantage on several issues” over the GOP.  

The survey indicates that divisive comments aimed at Muslims and immigrants are shaping voting preferences: More than 40 percent of the Asians and Pacific Islanders polled said that they would not vote for candidates who expressed negatives views about either group. The survey’s authors concluded that “Asian Americans are paying close attention to political discourse,” and “will not vote for a candidate expressing exclusionary rhetoric.”

Asian American and Pacific Islanders have traditionally been swing voters, but they are also the least likely to be contacted by political campaigns: 62 percent of those surveyed reported no contact from Democratic campaigns 73 percent reported no contact from Republican campaigns. 

When asked “Compared to previous elections, are you more enthusiastic than usual about voting this year or less enthusiastic?” 51 percent of Asians and Pacific Islanders responded that they were more enthusiastic—an increase of 24 percentage points since 2014. 

Since the 2012 presidential election, many Asian Pacific Islander Americans have moved into the ranks of eligible voters because they have turned 18 or have become American citizens: 60 percent of new Asian American and Pacific Islander voters gained the right to vote through naturalization.

Asian Americans currently comprise about 4 percent of all eligible voters; By 2044, that figure is expected to increase to 10 percent.

Pennsylvania Offers Clean Slate to Ex-Offenders

Pennsylvania is poised to become the first state in the nation to limit access to criminal records for certain nonviolent offenders. In April, the Pennsylvania General Assembly took up the consideration of bills that aim to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society without the permanent stigma of a criminal record.

Under the Clean Slate Act, people convicted of nonviolent misdemeanors would have their criminal records automatically sealed after ten years. Juvenile records would be sealed after seven years and records for most minor offenses, known as summary offenses in Pennsylvania, would be sealed after five years. People who are charged with an offense, but not convicted of a crime, will have those records sealed after 60 days. Today, eligible ex-offenders must hire an attorney or file a petition to have their records sealed. Nearly three million Pennsylvanians have criminal records.

The Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to move its bill to the Senate on Tuesday and the House Judiciary Committee is expected to follow suit with its plan, which is identical to the Senate version. The bills have broad support from Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly as well as from Democratic Governor Tom Wolf. “We’re hearing nothing but three cheers for ‘clean slate’ across the aisle,” says Rebecca Vallas, the managing director of the Center for American Progress’s Poverty to Prosperity program.

The bill garnered praise early on from a bipartisan coalition working on criminal justice reform. “We’re encouraged that Pennsylvania is taking a step forward to improve access to jobs and remove hurdles to educational opportunities for residents across the Commonwealth,” said Andy Hoover, the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s legislative director, in a statement.

Tim Head, executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a right-wing Christian non-profit based in Georgia, released a statement calling the bill an “important first step in putting a stop to the vicious cycle of incarceration and, instead, providing an opportunity at redemption for those exiting the justice system and working to rebuild their lives.”

A criminal record can hinder a person’s access to housing, employment, and education opportunities, which are critical ways to get re-established in a community. In turn, the failure to get back on one’s feet after being released from prison helps fuel recidivism rates among ex-offenders. State recidivism rates have been declining, but 60 percent of ex-convicts in Pennsylvania re-offend within three years, according to state Department of Corrections data.

Vallas believes that many people will no longer face these barriers under the new law. “I think it is safe to say that it’ll be in the hundreds of thousands,” she says.  Other states are also likely to enact “clean slate” laws. Last fall, Michigan Republican Senator Rick Jones announced his intention to introduce similar legislation.

Veterans’ Groups: Don’t Scrap the VA’s Health Care System

As they meet again in Washington, D.C., this week, the congressionally mandated Commission on Care, tasked with determining a 20-year strategic plan for the Veterans Health Administration, would do well to heed the voices of veterans and veterans service organizations that it has too often sidelined from its deliberations.

In its April meeting, the commission heard from leaders of the largest veterans service organizations (VSOs)—Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American, Vietnam Veterans of America, Vietnam Veterans of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Got Your Six, and Military Officers Association of America. All of them adamantly rejected the dismantling of the VHA, which had been recommended by seven of the commission members in their so-called Strawman Document. 

What the VSO representatives argued for was a program like the one VA Undersecretary for Health David Shulkin has proposed. Within limits, veterans would be able see private-sector providers who have been vetted by the VHA. The VHA would still coordinate the care they receive, thus attempting to integrate private-sector providers into a larger VHA network.

What these VSOs do not want is the kind expansion of the current Choice program envisioned in new legislation proposed by Senator John McCain and sponsored by seven other Republicans. The Permanent Choice Card Act would eliminate current restrictions that limit the program to veterans who cannot get a VHA appointment within 30 days, or who live more than 40 miles from a VHA facility. Under this bill, any eligible veteran can go anywhere, to any private-sector provider, for any condition. This would lead to higher costs and, the VSOs fear, to even more limitations on access to services. Veterans with complex physical and mental conditions would receive no care coordination from the VHA which, given the reality of private-sector health care, would mean no care coordination at all.   

As Rick Weidman, executive director for government and policy affairs at Vietnam Veterans of America, explained at the hearing, care coordination is critical because veterans have far more complex problems than the average private-sector patient. Which is why Weidman also urged commissioners to move beyond anonymous data when estimating future VHA use. Yes, the number of veterans the VHA serves will diminish as World War II, Korean, and Vietnam War veterans die.  The veterans who still use the VHA, however, will be sicker than the average private-sector patient. Most older adults, for example, have three or more problems, while the average Vietnam veteran, Weidman reminded the commission, has nine to twelve, which are both military- and age-related. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have even more complex conditions.

While some commissioners seemed to be listening, VSO leaders remain concerned about those who persisted in “misunderstanding” their positions, by insisting that VSOs favored removing the current 40-mile or 30-day restrictions on the use of Choice. On April 29, seven of the VSO leaders wrote a follow-up letter to the commission, making it completely clear what they and their members want: “the development of local integrated community networks in which VA serves as the coordinator and primary provider of health care to veterans; non-VA community care would be integrated into this network to fill gaps and expand access.”

In a letter to sent to the commission, a veteran of the Iraq war put it even more eloquently: “Your solution of sending us to private healthcare providers is the wrong direction. … There is no private health care provider office that can offer me this type of care. So just fix our VA because it belongs to us not to the private sector.”

Warren Calls on Banks to Invest in Minority Neighborhoods, Businesses

Senator Elizabeth Warren recently warned that minority families and businesses continue to suffer disproportionately from the lingering effects of the Great Recession and called on the country’s banks to step up to assist local communities.

Warren noted that most Americans experienced severe hardships during the economic downturn. “In 2013, the median income of white households was 13 times that of black households,” she said. But she also underlined the fact that large financial institutions had specifically targeted minority homebuyers with subprime loans that had a devastating impact on their finances.

“The housing collapse destroyed trillions of dollars in family wealth,” the Massachusetts Democrat told the Center for Global Policy Solutions’ “Color of Wealth” summit in Washington last week. “But the crash hit African American families like a punch in the gut.” “White households lost on average 11 percent of their wealth,” she added, “but black households lost over 30 percent of their wealth.” Given these disparities, Warren argued that “the federal government [needs] to make real investments in communities of color.”

The Center has released a study, “The Color of Entrepreneurship,” that documents racial disparities in the business sector. According to the report, racism has blunted the benefits of minority-owned businesses: The U.S. economy continues to forgo about 1.1 million minority-owned businesses due to historic and current instances of discrimination. The report concluded that if those businesses were up and running, they would potentially create nine million jobs and increase the U.S. national income by $300 billion.

The center’s analysis of business ownership survey data from the Census Bureau found that while the overall number of minority-owned businesses grew, the number of firms owned by African American men dropped by 2.3 percent. Black men were the only group to experience a decline.

Minority- and women-owned businesses have also experienced declines in average sales. In 2012, firms owned by men regardless of race had higher average sales than companies owned by women. Among male-owned businesses, white-owned firms saw the highest average sales in 2012, and black-owned firms the lowest. Similarly, firms owned by white women had the highest average sales and those run by black women, the lowest.

Most minority-owned businesses saw a decline in average wages as well. Employees working for companies owned by American Indian women saw a 6 percent drop in average pay, the biggest drop in the survey.

American Indian men and Hispanic men also experienced steep declines in wages, at 5.8 and 5.6 percent respectively. Employees working for firms owned by white women and white men saw a 0.2 percent and 1.3 percent decrease in average wages, respectively. However, workers employed by firms owned by black men saw a 1.2 percent increase in average pay.

The report suggested several ways to close the wealth gap, ranging from tax credits for new minority entrepreneurs (which could attract venture capital) to staving off tuition and fee hikes at state universities so that young entrepreneurs leave college with less debt and more money to invest in a business.

Warren proposed expanding the Community Reinvestment Act, a Carter administration-era reform that encourages commercial banks to invest in low-income communities. Federal officials make “deliberate policy choices that favor those with money and power,” said Warren. “The American people are holding up our end of the bargain. But for too long, many banks have not been holding up their end, and that has got to stop.”

This post has been updated. 

Pentagon Continues to Mull Over Lifting Ban on Transgender Troops

LGBT advocates were elated when Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that the Pentagon intended to lift the military’s longstanding ban on transgender members, saying that the current policy was an “outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach that’s contrary to our value of individual merit.” Nine months later, the transgender community is still waiting for the department to make its move.

Last July, Carter commissioned a task force to look into the implications of lifting the current transgender service ban and gave the group six months to investigate. At the end of 2015, a Pentagon spokesperson said that the task force’s initial report would be completed in January, but the findings have yet to be made public. (Several media outlets reported that the Pentagon would end the ban on May 27, but department officials have pulled back from that timeline.)

Currently, the military bans openly transgender people from enlisting and public disclosure of one’s transgender status is grounds for discharge. Carter also announced in July a change in the process for discharging currently enlisted transgender service members. The move made it easier for transgender individuals to remain on duty while top Pentagon officials consider lifting the ban, “but it is still unsafe for troops to be out,” says Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a San Francisco-based research center that publishes reports on gender, sexuality, and the military.

A New York Times editorial noted that 77 service members have disclosed their transgender status to their superiors in the past year. A 2014 UCLA Williams Institute report estimated that there were 15,500 transgender people in the military. After the most recent military force reductions, Belkin now estimates that there are about 13,000 transgender people in active service.

Two years ago, a commission co-chaired by former U.S. surgeon general Jocelyn Elders reported “that there is no compelling medical rationale for banning transgender military service, and that eliminating the ban would advance a number of military interests.”

Recent research bears out those conclusions. According to the Times, a forthcoming RAND Corporation study found that lifting the service ban was unlikely to affect unit cohesion, that only a very small number of individuals would seek gender transition–related medical care annually, and that those costs would be “negligible.”

The Pentagon has been criticized for the delays and for a lack of transparency on transgender issues. Earlier this month, Brad Carson, an acting under secretary of defense who had been the Pentagon’s top civilian official on personnel matters and a key player in the efforts to open the military to transgender service members, resigned after a combative Senate Armed Forces Committee confirmation hearing earlier this year.

Lifting the ban on transgender military service would be another milestone in the Obama administration’s efforts to remove the some of the remaining barriers to military service for certain groups. In 2010, Congress repealed the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy that prevented gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members from serving openly. Last December, Carter announced that all military combat positions, including those in elite units like the Navy SEALs, would be open to women.

Vice President Elizabeth Warren?

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Warren, the populist senator from Massachusetts, told The Boston Globe in September that she would likely endorse a presidential candidate during the primaries, but has since remained coy. 

 

The Boston Globe has reported that Hillary Clinton is considering picking a woman running-mate, and the optics suggest that this means Elizabeth Warren. The Globe quotes an on-the-record interview with no less than Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

So what’s this about? Is it the Clinton campaign signaling to Sanders supporters that she would reach to her left in selecting a vice presidential candidate? Is it just a trial balloon? Would Warren take the job? And is it a good idea?

I have no inside information. But you don’t put something like this out there without first clearing it, lest you get shot down. Clearly, there must have been conversations with Warren before Podesta just ran the idea up the flagpole.

Would this be a smart move for Clinton? I think it would. For starters, it would energize the Sanders wing of the party like almost nothing else, other than putting Bernie on the ticket.

Second, it would jump start the excitement of a gender breakthrough. Clinton has not produced the thrills that the prospect of the first woman president should produce, because she is kind of old news and a little shopworn. But Warren herself, and an all-women ticket—that would really be something. A double breakthrough!

Wouldn’t it scare off some men? Not much. The men who are not going to vote for Hillary would not be deterred by having a man as her running mate; and there aren’t many more men who would be repulsed merely by the presence of a second woman on the ticket.

Third, it would help in the white working class areas of the Midwest, where the election will be decided. Trump is cleaning up his act, hiring speechwriters, trying to look presidential. If he is the nominee, and the Republicans have, say, a Trump-Kasich ticket, it could be a close election.

Clinton needs shoring up with white working class voters in key states such as Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Warren could help.

But is this a good idea for Warren? What if Clinton put her on the ticket, and then mainly ignored her?

This would be a risk for Warren if she accepted a cabinet position. But don’t forget, the vice president is the one person in a president’s administration who can’t be fired.

Warren has her own national constituency. She is a genius at combining an astute inside game with a superb outside game. If Vice President Warren pitched an idea at President Hillary Clinton, and Clinton was lukewarm, Warren is entirely capable of going out and making speeches.

And what about her Senate seat? In the past, the idea of Warren as VP has been seen as a nonstarter because Massachusetts Republican Governor Charlie Baker would get to fill the seat and the new Senate is likely to be Democratic or Republican by a vote or two either way; every seat counts.

But there is more to it than that. Massachusetts law requires a special election within 145 to 160 days after a Senate seat is vacated. So Baker’s interim appointee would serve for less than six months before the Democrats in deep blue Massachusetts took back the seat.

This idea of course is far from a done deal. It’s a trial balloon. Warren has not endorsed either Sanders or Clinton, and it will take a lot of fancy footwork for Sanders not to be offended, for Warren not to feel used just for her symbolic value, and for Clinton as presumed nominee to make a final decision.

But having raised this idea, Clinton now runs the risk of looking like a trimmer if she eventually goes with someone centrist such as Virginia Senator Tim Kaine or another conventional choice.

Clinton, more than anything, needs a shot of excitement and enthusiasm. Warren would surely bring that. And the fact that Warren herself has not closed the door is doubly interesting.

Whadda year!

New State Restrictions Force Pro-Choice Advocates into Familiar Battle Zone

When Indiana’s Republican Governor Mike Pence signed a measure that placed controversial limits on abortion, the law’s constitutional implications likely had little bearing on his decision. Nevertheless, Pence’s move comes as some anti-abortion governors and state lawmakers devise even more severe restrictions and force reproductive-rights advocates onto familiar turf in state and federal courtrooms.

Calling the state law “unprecedented and unconstitutional,” the ACLU has filed suit against Indiana in federal court. The state abortion law now bans doctors from performing abortions on women who seek to end pregnancies on the basis of “the fetus’s race, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, or diagnosis or potential diagnosis of the fetus having Down syndrome or any other disability”; mandates that abortion providers have admitting privileges at local hospitals; demands that all remains be buried or cremated; and requires that women visit their abortion provider to undergo an ultrasound and listen to the fetus’s heartbeat at least 18 hours before actually having an abortion, a provision that would complicate many women’s lives since only four of Indiana’s 92 counties have clinics that offer the procedure.

“The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly stressed that a woman, not the state, is to determine whether or not to obtain an abortion,” said Ken Falk, the Indiana ACLU’s legal director, in a statement about the lawsuit.

The Guttmacher Institute, a national research and policy nonprofit that promotes reproductive rights and women’s health, notes that since 2010, states have enacted about 300 laws restricting abortions, the most passed in any five-year period since the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. In 2015, about 400 abortion restrictions were introduced in state legislatures, mostly in the South and the Midwest.

According to Kelly Baden, the director of state advocacy for the Center for Reproductive Rights, a global legal advocacy organization that focuses on reproductive-rights issues, state legislators have already introduced more than 330 bills in the first quarter of 2016 that contain some form of restriction on reproductive health and rights.

With lawmakers spending more time campaigning, “election years should be lighter [for new bills],” says Baden. “But we are not seeing this.” But unless pro-choice lawmakers gain decisive majorities in state houses, reproductive-rights advocates in anti-abortion states may have to continue to resort to legal action.

Pro-choice advocates have won some significant legal victories. Last month, a federal court permanently blocked an Alabama law that required all doctors performing abortions in the state to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Challenges to similar laws are pending in Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Wisconsin. In another recent pro-choice win, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a petition that would have placed a statewide referendum on abortion access on the November ballot.

National pro-choice organizations note that while these rulings protecting abortion rights have been invaluable, lawsuits are time-consuming and expensive. “Part of the [anti-abortion movement’s] strategy is getting the pro-choice side to use up its resources, and litigating cases are a part of that,” says Leslie McGorman, NARAL Pro-Choice America’s deputy policy director. 

“We need to do a better job of conveying the impact of restrictions [like Indiana’s] to the public,” says Baden. “Women shouldn’t have to run to court to defend their constitutional right to an abortion.”

 

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that roughly 80 percent of the approximately 300 reproductive-rights bills introduced in 2016 contained restrictions on abortion. In fact, state legislators have introduced more than 330 bills that all contain restrictions on reproductive health and rights. The text has been corrected to reflect this.

DOL Releases Bold New Retirement Investment Protections

Flanked by Democratic allies in Congress on Wednesday, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez unveiled the final version of the long-awaited fiduciary rule, which requires that, like doctors and lawyers, retirement account brokers must act in their clients’ best interest.

“It really puts in place a fundamental principle of consumer protection into the American retirement marketplace, which is that consumers’ best interests must now come before the advisor’s financial interest,” Secretary Perez declared in a speech at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress.

Advocates of the fiduciary rule argue that the retirement investment industry has become tainted by advisors who are incentivized by lucrative fees, commissions, and other monetary rewards to steer clients into inferior retirement investment packages with higher fees and lower returns.

Those types of high fees, one study found, could tack on an additional three years before a worker could retire. Conflicted advice from retirement advisors, advocates say, has cost retirement savers $17 billion per year, sometimes shaving tens of thousands of dollars from an individual’s retirement savings.

The fiduciary rule attempts to address a new reality brought about by the large-scale shift from employer-provided pensions to products like IRAs and 401(k) accounts. It’s a shift that has left many workers—disproportionately blacks, Latinos, and women—in the lurch with no end in sight.

“The regulatory structure that protects people’s investments has not kept up with the changing landscape,” Perez said. “In a world where people are more on their own in making financial decisions, financial advisors are not required to give advice that is not in their clients’ best interest.”

The new rule is a major plank in President Obama’s consumer protection agenda, which was initially spurred by the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Obama called for the Department of Labor to issue the fiduciary rule just over a year ago, saying, “If your business model rests on taking advantage, bilking hardworking Americans out of their retirement money, then you shouldn’t be in business.”

But like many of Obama’s initiatives that rely on his executive power, the rule has faced fierce opposition from Republicans in Congress and the financial services lobby.

Retirement advising companies complained that compliance with the rule would cost the financial services industry lots of money and ultimately limit access to advising services among workers with smaller retirement portfolios. But Secretary Perez said that the Labor Department implemented several changes to initial language that addressed industry concerns, including a last-minute change that stretches out the implementation period. 

Critics have also implied that the rule addresses a problem that doesn’t exist, pushing the administration to provide examples of those who have been hurt by bad retirement advice. Admittedly, the Department of Labor has struggled to do so, highlighting just a couple of individual anecdotes in a Politico story. Retirement experts say that it’s hard for consumers to know when they’re being cheated, especially since a lot of unscrupulous behavior in the industry isn’t technically illegal.

Democrats are calling it a landmark achievement for the administration, and have pledged to fight tooth-and-nail against Republican pledges to overturn the rule in Congress.

“Sometimes government works for the people, and today is one of those days,” Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren proclaimed at the event.

For years, wealthy industry players financed an army of lobbyists and lawyers to try to stop this rule in its tracks, Warren said. “And honestly, some of them will continue to keep fighting. They have 17 billion reasons to keep fighting.” 

“The Full Spectrum of the Republican Party”

In his victory speech Tuesday night after winning the Wisconsin primary, Senator Ted Cruz pointed to his endorsements from former GOP presidential candidates former Texas Governor Rick Perry, Senator Lindsey Graham, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, as proof that he has the “full spectrum of the Republican Party coming together and uniting behind this campaign.”

But what’s most striking about these political figures is how much they have in common. They differ in height, weight, charisma, and personality, but there’s hardly any distance between them when it comes to what they believe about government and public policy. On a scale of one to ten—with ten being the most reactionary—every candidate rates an eight or above.

Here’s where Cruz and those ex-rivals who now support him stand on the major issues facing the country:

·       Obamacare—against

·       Raising the minimum wage—against

·       Raising taxes on the super-rich—against

·       Overturning Citizens United—against

·       Abortion and Planned Parenthood—against

·       Same-sex marriage—against

·       President Obama’s executive actions to protect Dreamers and the parents of children who are citizens or legal permanent from deportation—against

·       Strengthening regulations on Wall Street—against

·       Tightening gun control laws—against

·       Allowing Syrian refugees to enter the U.S.—against

·       Eliminating the death penalty—against

·       Promoting green jobs—against

·       Reducing military spending—against

·       Making voter registration easier—against

·       Labor unions—against

The “full spectrum” of Cruz supporters covers an extremely narrow ideological niche that is out of sync with the vast majority of the American public.

Supreme Court Case That Almost Busted Public-Sector Unions is Dead. What Now?

A dark cloud that’s loomed large over public-sector unions has cleared away—for now.

The Supreme Court split 4-4 Tuesday in its decision on Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case centering on the legality of “fair-share” fees, which non-union members are required to pay to cover collective bargaining costs.

And while the decision came down Tuesday, Friedrichs’s fate was largely sealed when Justice Antonin Scalia unexpectedly died in February, ending the conservative majority on the high court.

Predictably, labor leaders were relieved, yet reserved.

“Millions of working people who understand the importance of their unions in bettering their lives and the well-being of their communities are breathing a sigh of relief,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said in a statement. “Even so, we know this fight is far from over. Just as our opponents won't stop coming after us, we will continue full speed ahead in our effort to mobilize our members and their neighbors around a shared vision to reclaim the promise of America.”

The case was highly controversial. Labor advocates contended that fair-share fees are crucial to keeping public-sector unions afloat; conservatives say it’s an affront to free speech. Friedrichs was pushed by right-wing legal activists in an attempt to overturn the 40 years of legal precedent that stood between public-sector unions and more restrictive right-to-work laws.

As the case moved through the federal courts, the larger public sector unions scrambled to shore up the rank-and-file and recruit non-members. But despite last-ditch efforts, labor leaders like Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry were less than optimistic.

“By next summer, we’re going to lose another two million because of a Supreme Court case for the public sector where public sector workers’ organizations will no longer be allowed to have union shops,” Henry said. “Everyone will be a voluntary member. And I think that means another chunk of the movement will be gone.”

But that all turned on a dime with Justice Scalia’s death. Now public-sector unions are suffering from strategic whiplash and are likely still sorting out how to proceed now that the current legal threat has been thwarted.

However, Friedrichs isn’t the only case attacking fair-share fees, and unions more broadly. There are a handful of similar cases currently working through the courts that focus on the same argument as Friedrichs—that mandatory union fees are unconstitutional. Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, who launched one of those cases, said yesterday that he fully expects his case to reach the Supreme Court.

Those circumstances make the current Supreme Court confirmation battle all the more important. President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, is largely viewed as a pro-labor judge who would hesitate to overturn 40 years of precedent.

If Garland is able to win confirmation from the Senate or if a Democratic president gets a liberal justice on the high court, then unions will rest easier with a liberal Supreme Court majority and largely pro-labor lower courts.

The real danger for public-sector unions lies with another scenario: a Republican who captures the White House in 2016 and secures the confirmation of a conservative justice, a development that would invite a fresh slate of anti-worker cases.

Pages