SUPREME COURT EXPANDS GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES’ RIGHTS!
This is a post we didn’t expect to write about this particular Supreme Court, but we are pleased to see that the United States Supreme Court has issued an important decision expanding the free speech rights of government employees. The decision, Lane v. Franks, No. 13-483 (U.S. June 19, 2014), held that government employees who testify under oath are protected by the First Amendment, meaning that their government employers may not retaliate against them for what they say when testifying. Lane, slip op, at 8, 13. This principle was in some doubt after an earlier decision by the Supreme Court called Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006), which held that statements made by a government employee as part of their official duties do not have First Amendment protection. Garcetti, at 421. Therefore, under Garcetti, government employees could be fired in retaliation for speaking about things they observed in their workplace. The Lane decision limits the situations where government employees can punish those employees for speaking out. It says that statements made by government employees in court proceedings are protected under the First Amendment, at least where testifying in court is not part of their ordinary job duties, because they are acting in their role as citizens, and are therefore entitled to the same First Amendment protection against retaliation by the government for what they say as any other citizen would be. Lane, slip op, at 9.
In its decision, the Supreme Court helpfully stated or restated a number of important principles that apply to any analysis of whether a government employee’s speech is protected by the Constitution. These include: that public employees do not give up their rights as citizens just because they have entered government service; that government employers must not require its employees to give up their Constitutional rights as a condition of employment; that speech by government employees about matters of public concern should be encouraged, not discouraged; and that this is, in part, because government employees are in the best position to speak about problems within their agency, which is itself in the public interest. Lane, slip op, at 9-11.
We welcome this important expansion of public employees’ protection from retaliation. For an interesting and comprehensive discussion of this case, check out this post