This morning, the US Supreme Court decided to tinker with workers' right to unionize... And the very survival of the American labor movement... And women's rights at work... And employers' ability to dictate their workers' health care decisions.
Both decisions were allegedly narrow, but they have the potential to set very dangerous precedents. Oh, and both decisions were 5-4. Who could have guessed the Roberts Court is so extremely ideologically divided?
In Harris v. Quinn, the 5 conservative Justices ruled in favor of a handful of home health care workers who did not want to pay union dues to enjoy the benefits of union negotiations. In order to curb "free riders", non - union workers were required to pay some sort of reimbursement fees to the unions for negotiating higher pay and better benefits for them. But now, 5 Justices (guess who!) just punctured a hole in this arrangement.
Now, they claim there's a separate class of workers who are "public employees" but are not really "public employees". Confused yet? Try Andy Kroll's Mother Jones primer for Harris. Suffice to say, today's ruling doesn't completely eviscerate the American labor movement... But it does bruise workers and threatens more pain ahead.
And then, there's Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby. Once again, we have a 5-4 ruling. Once again, we have a troubling precedent that threatens workers' rights. And once again, we have theoretical "religious freedom" valued over real women's health.
In Hobby Lobby, 5 Justices (guess who!) ruled that "closely held corporations" (essentially family run enterprises) can claim "religious objections" when denying workers contraception and other forms of reproductive health care. Strangely enough, some progressives are breathing sighs of relief today because this rather jumbled ruling actually gave plenty of room for the federal government to step in and provide reproductive health care to affected workers. The ruling was also designed to be narrow enough to avoid threatening other health care benefits (like blood transfusions and vaccinations) and/or legalizing workplace discrimination.
Still, this sets a frightening precedent. What if the hardest of hard-line conservative Justices just had one or two more votes on the Supreme Court? The message from Justice Samuel Alito (who authored both majority opinions) seems to be that he's waiting for just this to go even further in the direction of undoing the entire past century of progress on workers' rights and women's rights.
Here's a helpful hint: This is why elections matter. Presidents appoint and Senators confirm Supreme Court Justices. And there's a good chance we'll see at least one more vacancy this decade. Imagine the difference one vote could have made today.
This is why elections matter.