A.G. Schneiderman’s Office Wins National Award For Legal Excellence

National Association Of Attorneys General Gives A.G.'s Office Award For Best Legal Brief Filed By A State In The Supreme Court

Brief Argued That Court Should Reject Challenge to States’ Right to Adopt Rules Allowing For Strong and Effective Public-Sector Unions

WASHINGTON – In recognition of legal excellence in advocacy before the U.S. Supreme Court, the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) today presented the Office of New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman with its “Best Brief Award” for the current Supreme Court term. The non-partisan organization presented this award for the Attorney General’s friend-of-the-court brief in the case of Harris v. Quinn. 

“Over these past three years, thanks to the remarkable work of our attorneys, my office has had great success in defending the principle of equal justice under law for all New Yorkers. Our attorneys work hard every day to make that a reality, and this well-deserved honor recognizes their efforts,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “I am lucky to be able to lead such a talented staff on behalf of New Yorkers, and I thank NAAG for recognizing their extraordinary work.”

The brief argued that states have a compelling interest in crafting effective labor relations schemes for public employees and that the Supreme Court should reject the petitioners’ challenge, which sought to bar states from adopting the same collective-bargaining model for public employees that is common for private-sector unions. Under that established model, which many states have long adopted to encourage strong and effective public-sector unions, government employees select a union to act as their exclusive representative in collective bargaining negotiations, and the selected union is authorized to collect an “agency” or “fair share” fee to defray the costs of representing all covered employees. 

The brief was filed on behalf of 14 states and the District of Columbia. It was chosen for the award by a panel of experienced private-sector Supreme Court litigators.

The petitioners in Harris argued that public-sector collective bargaining incorporating exclusive-representation and agency-fee requirements violated the First Amendment rights of dissenting government workers. The Supreme Court had previously rejected the same First Amendment challenge in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. In Abood, the Supreme Court recognized that the minimal intrusion on the First Amendment rights of objecting public employees was necessary because of the state’s compelling interest in avoiding the disruption of essential government services caused by labor strikes. The brief argued that “Abood appropriately afforded deference to state judgments about how best to structure the labor relations of state and local governments,” and also explained that in asking the Court to overrule Abood, the petitioners sought to force states to abandon public-sector collective-bargaining models that states have used successfully for decades to ensure peace and stability in state and local government labor relations. The Supreme Court has not yet issued a decision in Harris. 

The states and territories joining the brief in addition to New York were Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont, and the District of Columbia.

NAAG is a non-partisan organization founded in 1907 to foster interstate cooperation on legal and law enforcement issues, conduct policy research and analysis of issues, and facilitate communication between the states’ chief legal officers and all levels of government. NAAG's “Best Brief Award" is presented based on the decision of a panel consisting of appellate experts from major private law firms throughout the United States.

The award will be presented on July 10th and 11th in Washington, D.C., to Solicitor General Barbara Underwood, former Deputy Solicitor General Richard Dearing, Special Counsel Cecelia Chang and Assistant Solicitor General Valerie Figueredo. 

A copy of the Attorney General’s award-winning brief is available here.

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