Thursday, February 25, 2016

USSCT Hears Government Employee Speech Case

Authored by Julie Tappendorf and originally posted on Ancel Glink's Municipal Minute blog where readers can keep up to date on a broad spectrum of local governmental issues.

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider a First Amendment case involving a government employee who claims he was demoted for political reasons.  The Court heard oral arguments last week, and will issue an opinion this term.  The question before the Court is whether a public employee can establish a violation of his right to political association where he was demoted for holding a campaign sign for his employer's (mayor) opponent. Heffernan v. City of Paterson.

According to Scotusblog, the Justices grappled with a variety of issues and questions, including whether merely holding a campaign sign was "associating" with someone that would be protected by the First Amendment.  Much of the questioning centered on whether a court should find a First Amendment violation for a "perceived" exercise of First Amendment rights (i.e., the government's wrong doing ) or whether the speaker must show that he was, in fact, exercising his First Amendment protected rights. 

This is an interesting case for government to watch. It reminds me of the "Facebook Like" case where deputies were fired for "liking" their employer's opponent in the election. In that case, the appellate court ruled that a "like" was First Amended protected "speech," and overturned the sheriff's termination of the deputies for exercising their political speech rights.  You may recall this case on the blog here.