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Despite landmark ruling, judge says Janus can’t have his money back

Mark Janus stands outside the Supreme Court after the court rules in a setback for organized labor that states can't force government workers to pay union fees, Wednesday, June 27, 2018, in Washington. | AP photo

Mark Janus dealt a serious blow to unions representing government workers last year with his landmark victory at the U.S. Supreme Court.

But he found no such luck Monday in Chicago, where a federal judge handed him a loss in his latest legal squabble over what court records say amounts to about $3,000.

Janus insisted AFSCME should pay back the fees he paid as a state worker between March 2013 and July 2018 — $2,929.56 — plus interest. He argued that AFSCME tried to “squeeze out every last dollar” as his case worked its way up to the Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled the fees violated his constitutional rights.

U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman disagreed in a six-page opinion Monday. He awarded Janus no damages, finding that AFSCME relied on a longstanding court precedent and could not have anticipated the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“Indeed, had the general and/or presidential election resulted differently, the composition of the Supreme Court that decided the case may well have been different, leading to a different result,” Gettleman wrote.

The Supreme Court ruled in June that the First Amendment shielded non-union government employees from paying fees to a union to cover the cost of representing them. In doing so, it overturned a 1977 precedent.

Janus’ case did not reach the Supreme Court until June 2017 — after the most recent presidential election — but the appeals process began in October 2016. In between, Donald Trump won the White House and successfully nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court then sided with Janus in a 5-4 decision that broke along ideological lines.

Janus’ lawyers later argued at least for nominal damages — even $1 — “to symbolize that his constitutional rights were, in fact, violated.”

“The union’s leadership knew, or certainly should have known, that its fee seizures were unconstitutional, but chose to continue seizing fees from employees anyway,” Janus’ lawyers wrote.

But Gettleman said that, by relying on the longstanding precedent until it was overruled last summer, “AFSCME followed the law and could not reasonably anticipate that the law would change.”