Hold on to your butts, y’all. It’s been a week.
Most of the action this week has been at the federal judicial level, but these recent developments will have real impacts on states, too.
Janustosaurus: Take, for instance, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME, where five out of the nine justices overturned 41 years of precedent by ruling that requiring workers to pay for the collective bargaining work from which they derive direct benefits somehow violates their First Amendment rights.
- But this case was never really about free speech; rather, it was about conservatives’ crusade to decimate public sector unions.
- In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan called out the conservative court majority for their “6-year campaign to reverse Abood,” the case that established a requirement that even workers who did not join unions should pay for the work unions engage in to bargain collectively, because that bargaining benefits all employees at a public-sector workplace.
- This “6-year campaign” is an echo of the state-level war on unions Republican lawmakers have been waging for this entire decade.
Why? Glad you asked!
- You see, public-sector unions, like corporations and other interest groups, engage in political activity.
- And Democrats at the state level are the elected officials best-positioned and most likely to support public-sector union members by fighting for things like education funding and increased teacher pay, pay raises and retirement benefits for state employees, and infrastructure investment that creates jobs for laborers.
- So those unions’ political activity mostly supports Democrats—especially state legislative candidates.
Republicans, obviously, aren’t fans of that.
- So they’ve been working for years to undermine union power—not because of their feelings about workplace policy, but because they want to damage Democratic political support.
In a classic case of saying the quiet part loud, Donald Trump straight-up admitted this himself after the Janus decision came down.
- After Republicans took an unprecedented level of control of state governments in the 2010 elections, they sought to cement their power by decimating the unions that support Democrats.
- Thus began a legislative union-busting crusade to impose the results conservatives sought in the Janus case on state after state.
- After remaining virtually static for decades (once Idaho became a so-called “right to work” state in 1985, the only other state to become anti-union until this decade was Oklahoma, in 2001), six states raced towards becoming “right to work” after 2010.
- Wisconsin was especially memorable because of the February 2011 walkout of Democratic state senators that temporarily blocked the passage of Act 10 (although Indiana House Democrats don’t get the credit they deserve for doing basically the same thing shortly thereafter), bringing the tally to six states that have become RTW since 2010: Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri.
And in January, we got some real evidence of the GOP’s success in their quest to crush union power.
- This study from scholars at Boston University, Columbia, and Brookings reveals the consequences of anti-union laws on Democratic power, and … well, it’s not pretty.
- In places with recent RTW laws, Democratic presidential vote share decreased by 3.5 percent.
- That impact persists in down-ballot races: Democratic vote shares similarly declined in U.S. House and Senate races, gubernatorial races, and in state legislative elections.
- In fact, the study’s authors estimate that Democrats control 5 to 10 percent fewer seats in state legislatures after “right to work” laws are enacted.
- And this evisceration of Democratic power at the legislative level leads to a sort of vicious cycle where Republicans use their increased numbers to gut voting rights, further undermining Democrats’ chances for success at the ballot box.
- Were these findings surprising? Nah. But it’s both kind of gratifying and depressing to have hard evidence of the impact of the GOP’s effort to bust unions.
And now SCOTUS has essentially made the entire country “right to work” for public sector workers.
- This will hurt Democrats at every level of the ballot, but it will hurt those running for state office worst of all.
- AFSCME and other public-sector unions that represent state and local employees provide significant support to Democratic state legislative candidates.
- The Janus decision will result in more “free-riders,” or those who benefit from collective bargaining without actually being union members, because there’s no reason to spend money on the cow if you’re getting the milk for free (so to speak) and consequently reduce union membership.
- Reduced union membership means less power and fewer donations to unions’ political funds (which union members must choose to contribute to).
- Smaller political funds means fewer dollars to support Democratic candidates.
Democrats are showing historic strength in state legislative elections this cycle, but the Janus decision will make ousting entrenched, corporate-funded GOP incumbents that much harder.
Which is what conservatives wanted all along.
Roetosaurus: Of course the other massive bit of federal judicial news this week came hot on the heels of the Janus decision.
- Justice Anthony Kennedy plans to bounce at the end of July, and now the world is filled with speculation and fear about what could happen if he’s replaced by someone with judicial leanings to his already-conservative right.
- A common worry for those of us with uteruses (and those who care about us) is 1973’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which established a woman’s right to obtain an abortion nationwide.
If Kennedy’s retirement leads to the fall of Roe, what does that mean on the state level?
- According to the Guttmacher Institute, the overturning of Roe would essentially instantly make abortion illegal in 17 states because of existing statutes.
- 10 states still have (currently unenforceable) pre-Roe abortion bans codified in state law:
- New Mexico
- West Virginia
- Three additional states have laws on the books that will automatically go into effect and ban abortion if Roe gets overturned:
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
- Four more states have laws that “express their intent to restrict the right to legal abortion to the maximum extent permitted by the U.S. Supreme Court in the absence of Roe.”
So that’s 17 states—covering 79.7 million people, or almost 25 percent of the country’s population—where Roe gets overturned and POOF! A woman’s legal right to obtain an abortion immediately disappears.
White Supremasaurus: Ah, North Carolina: the perpetual fossil trove of state political badness.
- An actual dude running for the state House would like to know “what is wrong with being a white supremacist.”
- Republican Russell Walker is running for HD-48, and according to a breathtakingly bigoted website that he says belongs to him, “God is racist.”
- Walker also put these two particular slogans on signs when he protested a local newspaper that refused to print any of his letters to the editor. (He’s also suing the paper for that perceived slight.)
- Walker also thinks Martin Luther King Jr. “was an agent of Satan,” and last year he lost a lawsuit to keep Confederate flags and portraits of Confederal generals in a South Carolina courtroom.
He’s also an anti-vaxxer, fwiw.
- The North Carolina Republican Party and House Caucus have withdrawn their support of Walker’s candidacy, but it’s too late to remove him from the November ballot.
Walker’s opponent is incumbent Democrat Garland Pierce, an African-American minister.
Vote Suppressiopteryx: The gerrymandered GOP supermajority in the North Carolina legislature is trying a fun new way to usurp the Democratic governor’s constitutionally-established power over the state’s electoral boards.
- You may remember how state courts repeatedly smacked down multiple Republican attempts to remove Gov. Roy Cooper’s existing authority to appoint Democratic majorities to the bodies administering and overseeing state elections.
- In 2016, the state’s Republican legislators, occupying comfortable, veto-proof supermajorities in both the state House and Senate—obtained through gerrymanders that have since been ruled unconstitutional by the courts—were positively incensed that a Democrat had the temerity to win the governorship.
- So the GOP set about removing as much power from the executive branch as they conceivably could—especially with regard to the state’s elections board. Their goal was to remake the board so Republican voter suppression measures established under the previous (Republican) administration can be preserved.
- First, before Cooper even took office, Republicans tried to mutate the state elections board, which would have a Democratic majority under a Democratic governor, into a larger, evenly split body appointed by the GOP-controlled legislature. A court struck it down.
- So Republicans tweaked their bill and tried again. The state Supreme Court struck it down.
- So Republicans tried yet again, this time glomming the measure onto an unrelated and bipartisan bill that would reduce elementary school class sizes. (Cooper has sued yet again.)
- GOP lawmakers are just done messing with laws that keep getting ruled unconstitutional; now they’re resorting to amending the state constitution itself.
- A measure that cleared the state Senate this week on a party-line vote contains a constitutional amendment that cuts the governor out of the board appointment process altogether and gives that power to the legislature.
- The amendment will appear on the ballot the November.
Court Packycephalosaurus: Also also on the North Carolina ballot this fall: an amendment to the state constitution that would give the legislature control over the candidates the governor can choose from if there’s a judicial vacancy.
Sounds innocent enough, yes?
Not so much.
- If Democrat Anita Earls loses her race for the state Supreme Court this fall, the court will have a 4-3 Democratic majority.
- The GOP-controlled legislature can then simply vote with their veto-proof majorities to add two seats to the court.
- Then, if this amendment passes, the legislature’s new sham commission would be able to send Cooper a list with nothing but hardcore partisan Republican names to fill those new vacancies they just created, opening the door to a 5-4 GOP majority.
When one Democratic lawmaker called his GOP colleagues out for this court-packing scheme, not a single Republican bothered to deny it.
Primaryceratops: Everyone’s justifiably abuzz about the massive primary upset in New York House District 14, but hey now—Oklahoma had primaries on Tuesday, too.
In another year, I’d probably give the results a passing glance and revert my focus to more flippable chambers tbh.
But this isn’t another year. It’s 2018, and if there’s one constant this cycle, it’s that all bets are off.
- You see, even in the super-red Sooner State, where Trump romped in 2016 with a 65-29 percent win, Democrats have flipped no fewer than four seriously Republican legislative seats in special elections this cycle.
- And this week’s primaries brought some bad news for incumbent GOP legislators.
- At least six incumbent Republicans lost.
- A seventh is just barely clinging to a lead over an opponent who’d stopped campaigning weeks ago.
- At least 12 more GOP lawmakers were forced into runoffs.
- Two of the incumbents who lost their primaries were among the 10 House members who opposed the tax increases the legislature passed earlier this year to raise education funding and end a nine-day teacher walkout. (Seven of the 12 facing runoffs also were “no” votes.)
That’s a wrap for this week, folks, and I’ll see you in two so I don’t interrupt your post-Independence Day recovery. Until then, remember: Life, ah, finds a way.