Union Station: A breakdown of public-sector union litigation in the federal courts

Today’s newsletter marks the third anniversary of Union Station. Our first edition launched in May 2018 in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME. Thank you for joining us as we’ve followed developments in public-sector union policy, litigation, and national debate since then.

A breakdown of public-sector union litigation in the federal courts

Since late 2019, Ballotpedia has tracked 130 federal lawsuits related to public-sector labor laws. Let’s take a quick look at the breakdown.

These lawsuits address one or more of the following types of questions (some cases are counted twice in the list below): 

  • Whether public-sector unions can be held liable for refunding agency fees paid before the Janus v. AFSCME ruling (82 cases), 
  • Whether public-sector unions may continue to collect union dues after union membership withdrawal if there is a pre-existing agreement for fees deduction throughout a given time period (58 cases), or 
  • Whether exclusive bargaining representation laws violate non-union members’ First Amendment rights (23 cases). 

United States federal courts decide disputes involving the Constitution and laws passed by Congress. There are 94 district courts, which are general trial courts that fall into 12 geographically-defined federal appellate circuits (the thirteenth court being the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit). Appeals courts can hear appeals from the district courts within their judicial circuits, and appeals court decisions can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Of the 130 cases we’ve tracked, 43 are pending or were resolved in U.S. district courts, and 70 are pending or were resolved in appellate courts. Seventeen cases have been appealed to the Supreme Court, which has denied petitions in nine of those cases so far. Seven are pending, and Janus is the only case in which a ruling has been issued.  

The chart below compares the volume of lawsuits that have originated in each federal circuit. We’ve tracked 57 cases originating in the Ninth Circuit, compared to only one case in the Eleventh Circuit.

In the majority of cases that have been decided so far, rulings have favored union and state defendants.   

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 92 pieces of legislation dealing with public-sector employee union policy. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking. 

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s) 

Recent legislative actions

No relevant legislative actions have taken place since our last issue.