Even members of a security detail can be exempt from First Amendment protections against political retaliation.
While we’re not sure if all police officers would find that being assigned to their mayor’s security detail would be a plum assignment, some members of the Chicago Police Department certainly do. So, when some of the officers who were assigned to Richard M. Daley’s security detail were overlooked for assignment to Mayor Emmanuel’s detail in favor of officers who had volunteered for Emmanuel during his campaign, Daley’s officers filed suit. Among their allegations was the claim that they were not retained on that security detail due to political retaliation. Presumably, those officers, who claimed to be better qualified to serve as security for a mayor, were overlooked in favor of Mayor Emmanuel’s political allies (the ones that volunteered during his campaign).
In affirming the dismissal of this claim last week, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals noted that the First Amendment generally prohibits government employers from considering one's political views when making employment decisions, but political loyalty may be a valid job requirement in two situations: first, when the job involves policymaking, which entails exercising political judgment, and second, when the job gives one access to his boss's confidential, politically-sensitive thoughts.
Here, the court agreed with the defendants that officers that serve on a security detail are often privy to conversations of the elected official which might include confidential information or strategy discussions on subjects. It also recognized that officers who provide security to elected officials are with the elected official or his or her family in some cases, during intimate family moments where they have unusual access to personal information about the official. Quoting from its own ruling in a case more than 30 years ago, “you cannot run a government with officials who are forced to keep political enemies as their confidants.”
While most police officers in all but the highest ranks generally enjoy First Amendment protections in their employment as public employees, they might lose that protection when their assignment gives them access to the thoughts and strategies of elected officials.
The case is Houlihan v. City of Chicago, 16-2949, 2017 WL 3947661 (7th Cir. Sept. 8, 2017)