When the Supreme Court handed down the Citizens United decision 2 and 1/2 years ago, it was widely assumed that the doctrine of removing virtually all restrictions on campaign financing would apply equally to both the right and left of the political spectrum. Both corporations and unions would be free to contribute as much as they wished. After all, are not both Republican leaning corporations and Democratic-leaning unions "people" who are entitled to the First Amendment right to free speech?
Of course, it was also clear that the unions would not be able to match the corporations in amounts of money actually raised, as we have just seen in the Wisconsin recall election, but that is just the way America works. We are a country of equal opportunity, not one of guaranteed equal outcomes. If the Republican billionaires can buy elections by outspending the unions, who are a crucial element of Democratic party financing, that is just the way "democracy" works.
However, in this Citizens United game of equal opportunity unlimited campaign money, it now turns out that one side is more equal than the other. On June 21, in a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court, In Knox v. Service Employees International Union, ruled that non-unionised public service workers who are still required to pay union dues must actively agree to allow a portion of their dues to be used for political contributions by the union. Under existing law, their consent was not required, and they were only entitled to have their money reimbursed by the union if they objected to using it for political campaigns.
Of course, corporations then should be required to seek permission from their shareholders in order to make political contributions too, right? Wrong. There is no such rule. What will this decision mean for unions? According to an article in the June 22 Financial Times, Andy Stern, former head of the Service Employees International Union, said that the Court has turned long standing precedent "upside down" and the effect on union coffers would be "substantial".
Thus, this new decision has taken Citizens United one step further. Not only is equality of outcomes in campaign contributions a part of past history, but now so is equality of opportunity to make contributions. There is one set of rules for corporations and another set of rules for the unions.
What does this mean for immigration? Unions are not just a major source of funding for the Democratic party, but are also an important vehicle for promoting immigrant rights. Not only are Latinos and other minorities well represented in the union movement, but union participation can make an important difference in elections directly affecting immigrant rights. An example was the Nevada 2010 Senate election, in which the Tea Party candidate, Sharron Angle, campaigned with Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio on an openly anti-immigrant platform .
One of Sheriff Joe's reported comments at a rally with Sharron Angle was that Nevada, like Arizona, has a lot of desert space and that it was time to put it to good use. However, unions in that state, including ones with a high percentage of Latino members, were able to defeat Sharron Angle and her anti-immigrant agenda.
In yesterday's decision, the Supreme Court has now made it even easier for big money Republicans to take over the White House and Senate, in addition to keeping control of the House. Of course, there may be those who, based on Romney's double-talk (I am struggling to be polite) in his June 21 speech before a Latino group in Orlando, think that he has now seen the light on immigrant rights. They are welcome to DREAM on, as I mentioned in a previous comment.
Incidentally, it may be worth noting that the two liberal Justices who sided with the majority in this decision (albeit with reservations), Justices Ginsberg and Breyer, were both appointed by President Bill Clinton. Only Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, both appointed by President Obama, sided with the unions. Conventional wisdom has it that Obama, America's Deporter in Chief, is further to the right on immigration and many other issues than Clinton (the "New Democrat" was. But which president signed IIRIRA?
Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 20 years.