The result is an unlikely victory for organized labor after it seemed almost certain the high court would rule 5-4 to overturn a regime in place nearly 40 years. The court is operating with only eight justices after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, who had been expected to rule against the unions.
The one-sentence opinion does not set a national precedent and does not identify how each justice voted. It simply upholds a decision from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that applies to California and eight other Western states.
The union case is among a handful of high-profile disputes in which Scalia’s vote was expected to tip the balance toward a result that favored the conservative justices.
Since Supreme Court decisions are not final until they are handed down, nothing Scalia did or said in connection with the case before his death mattered to the outcome.
The justices divided 4-4 in a case that considered whether public employees represented by a union can be required to pay ‘‘fair share’’ fees covering collective bargaining costs even if they are not members.