I was nervous. This was my first case before the United States Supreme Court. But here I was, ready to argue against Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association.
In this case, a few public school teachers claim they shouldn’t have to pay union dues because it violates their First Amendment rights. A conservative ruling would be bad, extending to Connecticut teachers, many of whom went to jail in the 1970s to win improvements in collective bargaining.
I wasn’t sure I could get away with reading a short story to the nine Justices, even if it was written in the first-person. I cleared my throat and began:
I got into the van this morning, ready to pick up my co-workers. By the time we were on the road to Hartford, there were twelve of us, all in our normal seats.
But no sooner had we gotten underway, J.D. started complaining. “These van costs are really bugging me,” he whined. “I don’t know why I have to pay anything.”
“We all share the costs,” Eugene said. “You expect to ride for free? You may not have noticed, but we make it to work on time every morning. This van can’t run without gasoline and a tuneup once in a while.” Eugene always knew the right thing to say.
J.D. wouldn’t quit. “It’s still too much. It’s eating into my Foxwoods money.” Everyone groaned.
A few minutes later, J.D. piped up again. “You know, I just read this Stephen King book. It’s called Christine. It shows how motor vehicles are really demons. I heard the same thing on the Internet. What if the van might steals our souls?”
“You’re listening to that propaganda again from the Yankee Institute for Public Policy,” Mary snarled. “We’re lucky to have this transportation. Some of us chipped in and got it before you ever joined. We’re not asking you to pay for the original purchase. Just pay your fair share now.”
“Besides, this van won’t drive itself,” Eugene patiently replied. “We all need to get behind the wheel eventually.” The passengers quietly considered this, even J.D.
“Where’s Henry?” asked Mary. “I haven’t seen him all week.”
“Maybe he left because he hated my ‘Nutmeggers for Bernie’ button,” offered Flynn, another co-worker. “I told him my political views didn’t cost him anything. Just because I wear it, that doesn’t mean everyone in this van believes the same.” “Damn right,” J.D. muttered, who pulled a ‘Cruz for Prez’ button out of his pocket and pinned it on.
“No, it wasn’t that. Henry decided he didn’t want to pay into our van fund anymore,” Eugene explained. “Henry said he didn’t need us, that he could do better by himself.”
Mary gave a quizzical look: “Better off without us? How has that worked out?”
“Eugene replied: “Well, he walked to work, but he was late every day. Then he sprained his ankle. Now he has to take a cab.” Everyone looked at J.D., who was silent.
“Bummer,” Mary said.
Well, my story was over. I looked up at the Justices. “And that, ladies and gentlemen of the Court, is my opening statement on why you should reject Friedrichs.”
Scalia pinched Thomas, who woke up. Roberts looked straight at me and said: “I don’t get it.”
“It’s an analogy, knucklehead,” Ginsburg replied.
Steve Thornton is a retired union organizer who writes for ShoeleatherHistoryProject.com. He has never argued a case before the Supreme Court.