A California law requiring non-union teachers to pay unions a fee for the unions' work in contract negotiations was left in place by a deadlocked U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday.
The 4-4 split of the eight justices currently on the high court resulted from the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last month.
Because the court was unable to make a decision, it left intact a 2014 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that upheld the California law.
The Supreme Court announced that result in a one-sentence order that referred to lower court decisions and said, "The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided court."
The state law was challenged by 10 teachers and was known as the Friedrichs case because the lead plaintiff was elementary school teacher Rebecca Friedrichs of Orange County.
The teachers filed their lawsuit against the Burlingame-based California Teachers Association and the National Education Association based in Washington, D.C. They claimed the enforced fees violated their free speech rights.
The state law applies to other public-sector employees as well as teachers. More than 20 other states have similar laws.
In California, the fee charged by unions to non-member teachers is about 70% of the full union dues for members. Unions are obligated under another state law to represent all teachers in a district, including non-union members, in contract bargaining and grievance procedures.
In lower court proceedings, a federal trial judge in Southern California and the 9th Circuit said they were bound by a 1997 decision by the Supreme Court upholding a similar law in a Detroit case.
Only the Supreme Court could overturn that precedent, and the panel seemed inclined to do that when it held oral arguments on the case in January with Scalia present. But Scalia's death left the court in a tie.
Lawyers from the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Individual Rights, which represented the teachers in its appeal, said they plan to ask the high court for a rehearing, possibly after a new court term begins in October.
CIR attorney Terry Pell said in a statement, "With the death of Justice Scalia, this outcome was not unexpected. A full court needs to decide this question and we expect this case will be re-heard when a new justice is confirmed."
CTA President Eric Heins said, "Today's ruling by the Supreme Court reaffirms that it is in the best interest of our students and our communities for educators to have a strong voice on the job."
"Collective bargaining rights allow educators, like me, to speak up for their students on important issues such as class sizes and high-stakes standardized tests," Hein said.