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Political Speech and Association Rights after Knox v. Seiu Local 1000

63 Pages Posted: 5 Dec 2012 Last revised: 7 Dec 2012

Catherine Fisk

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law

Erwin Chemerinsky

University of California, Irvine School of Law

Date Written: December 5, 2012


In Citizens United, Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, and other recent cases, the Supreme Court has given organizations a newly-robust First Amendment right to use the entity’s money in ways that stakeholders within the organization may find anathema and to discriminate against employees and members in order to advance the expressive interest of the entity. Yet, in Knox v. SEIU Local 1000 in 2012, the Court held that a labor union violates the First Amendment rights of dissenters if it levies a special assessment for political speech without first having dissenters opt in. The Court’s jurisprudence on associational speech lacks any theory of when and why an organization’s speech violates the rights of dissenters. Nor does it consider what kinds of internal organizational governance mechanisms are necessary to ensure a fair allocation of speech protections between those who wish the organization to promote one message and those who wish it to promote another. Moreover, the majority in Knox casts First Amendment doubt on the validity of the entire concept of collective bargaining by a union elected by a majority to represent all employees in a bargaining unit of government employees. As ballot measures in various states have been enacted or are pending limiting the rights of unions to raise and spend money on politics in the name of protecting dissident employees, a principled approach to the free speech rights of unions, corporations, and other associations is ever more needed.

In this article we offer an approach to reconciling the First Amendment expressive interests of organizations with the expressive interests of dissenting stakeholders within them. We suggest an approach to resolving the inconsistency between Citizens United, the union-dues cases, and the Court’s other compelled speech and associational speech jurisprudence. Contrary to the prevailing wisdom, we suggest not that shareholders be given the opt out (or opt in) rights of dissenting union employees but instead that unions be given the same broad speech rights as corporations to use dues and fees paid by all employees on political activity.

Suggested Citation

Fisk, Catherine and Chemerinsky, Erwin, Political Speech and Association Rights after Knox v. Seiu Local 1000 (December 5, 2012). Cornell Law Review, Vol. 98, No. 5, 2013; UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2012-80. Available at SSRN:

Catherine L. Fisk (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States
(510) 642-2098 (Phone)

Erwin Chemerinsky

University of California, Irvine School of Law ( email )

401 E. Peltason Dr.
Ste. 1000
Irvine, CA 92697-1000
United States

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