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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

The Supreme Court is very likely on the verge of dealing a devastating blow to public-sector unions — one of the last remaining strongholds of organized labor, and a critical part of the Democratic Party’s base.

What to watch: The court will hear oral arguments today in a challenge to the fees public-sector unions collect from non-members. But the writing is already on the wall here. It would take a huge surprise for unions to get a reprieve.

The details: Public-sector unions collect dues from their members. They’re also allowed to collect so-called “agency fees” from people who work in unionized workplaces but aren’t members of the union.

  • The Supreme Court ruled in 1977, in a case called Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, that non-members couldn’t be forced to pay for unions’ political activity, but that agency fees were OK because they only fund the union’s collective bargaining — which non-union employees still benefit from.
  • Conservatives have been taking aim at agency fees, urging the court to overrule Abood. They say agency fees are a form of compelled speech, and violate workers’ rights not to support unions’ message. Because they’re government employees, the challengers argue, even collective bargaining is political.

The impact: Even though the money at stake in this case is separate from the money public-sector unions pump into Democratic campaigns, weakening unions in the workplace would almost certainly weaken their political muscle as well. That’s why conservative activists have taken such a strong interest in this line of cases.

The odds: They’re definitely against the unions.

  • This is the third time the high court has taken a crack at this issue. In 2014, the justices issued a narrow ruling, but the conservatives suggested they might be willing to overturn Abood.
  • They got their chance in 2016, but Justice Antonin Scalia died shortly after oral arguments. That case ended in a 4-4 deadlock — which gave the unions a reprieve, but indicated that if Scalia had lived, or if he was replaced with a like-minded justice, Abood would be out.
  • That time has come. Barring any big surprises today from the four justices who were ready to strike down agency fees in 2016 — or a shocking pro-union bent from Justice Neil Gorsuch — this is likely the end of the road for Abood. And it's the beginning of a new, weaker era for the unions that represent teachers and other public-sector employees.

A ruling is expected by the end of June.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - World

State Department orders evacuation of U.S. diplomats' families from Ukraine

From left, undersecretary for political affairs Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. chargés d'affaires in Ukraine Kristina Kvien during a meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal in Kyiv. Photo: Yevhen Liubimov/ Ukrinform/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The State Department will begin evacuating families and nonessential staff from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv this week, according to a travel advisory published Sunday evening.

The latest: The United Kingdom's Foreign Office announced Monday it was also withdrawing some embassy staff and dependants from Ukraine's capital "in response to the growing threat from Russia," but added the British Embassy would remain open.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

U.K. PM orders inquiry into Muslim lawmaker's discrimination claim

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London, England, last week. Photo: Ian Vogler/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's office announced Monday that he's ordered an inquiry into allegations from a Conservative Member of Parliament that she was fired from a ministerial job due to her Muslim faith.

Driving the news: Nusrat Ghani told the Sunday Times she was informed by a government whip that she was fired from her position as a junior transport minister in February 2020 after her "Muslimness was raised as an issue" and that her faith made colleagues feel "uncomfortable."

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Virginia attorney general fires Jan. 6 investigator from university post

McIntire Amphitheater at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo: Robert Knopes/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The lead investigator for the Jan. 6 House select committee investigating the Capitol riot has been fired from his position as the University of Virginia's counsel by the state's new Republican attorney general, per the Washington Post.

Why it matters: Democrats say the removal of Tim Heaphy from his post after some three years while he's on leave from the university to investigate the insurrection is likely "retribution" for the House probe — an accusation strongly denied by the office of state Attorney General Jason Miyares (R).