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Thread: Justices set limits on public employees' speech rights

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Plus
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    Justices set limits on public employees' speech rights

    Headline and Article from the NY Times:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/30/wa...rtner=homepage

    Highlights:
    In a 5-to-4 decision, the court held that public employees' free-speech rights are protected when they speak out as citizens on matters of public concern, but not when they speak out in the course of their official duties.

    "We hold that when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the court.

    In reversing the Ninth Circuit today, Justice Kennedy noted that the Supreme Court has made it clear in previous rulings "that public employees do not surrender all their First Amendment rights by reason of their employment." On the other hand, he wrote, "When a citizen enters government service, the citizen by necessity must accept certain limitations on his or her freedom."
    I wonder what APA / AICP will say about this ruling ?
    Oddball
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  2. #2

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    Well...how many private employers would allow their employees to speak out at work, while employed on duty, in ways contrary to their employer? (I/m not talking about whistleblowers, here, that would be an interesting issue)

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Well...how many private employers would allow their employees to speak out at work, while employed on duty, in ways contrary to their employer? (I/m not talking about whistleblowers, here, that would be an interesting issue)
    That was the exact point that the 5 majority justices made. They want to see a similarity between the public and private sector in regard to employee management relations. The major problem with this thinking is that private industries use their own capital to run the business while publicagencies uses taxes. Personally, I think this changes the equation somewhat. Using the police power of government inaccuratly can have a devastating impact on innocent people's lives and those misuses of authority need to be exposed. I guess we can't now.
    Satellite City Enabler

  4. #4
    It seems the decision urges public employees to ignore the chain of command in their departments (in whistle-blowing cases, at least) and to speak publicly (where our first amendment rights are protected according to the decision). How likely do you think that will be?

    This decision is just counter-intuitive and silly.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    The justices have been sitting atop the chain of command too long and forgot about that little matter called bureaucracy.
    Satellite City Enabler

  6. #6
    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Well...how many private employers would allow their employees to speak out at work, while employed on duty, in ways contrary to their employer? (I/m not talking about whistleblowers, here, that would be an interesting issue)

    Essentially what this ruling means is saying is that you can be told by your boss to do something illegal, and if you mention to your boss that this thing is illegal and you don't think its right that you can be fired and have no claim.

    Given that you as a public employee can also be sued as an individual if you knowingly do something illegal this ruling is absolutely terrible.

  7. #7
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    I always held that as public servants, there are certain rights you give up - I don't write letters to the editor, I don't call my favorite Councilor for personal or personnel reasons, I don't speak out against my boss

    but if it's a whistleblower case or sexual harassment or laws outside or of a higher authority than the local level, then I do think that's different - and I think the dissenters were trying to get to that

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by imaplanner
    Essentially what this ruling means is saying is that you can be told by your boss to do something illegal, and if you mention to your boss that this thing is illegal and you don't think its right that you can be fired and have no claim.
    That is not how I read into the ruling. Doing something illegal vs an opinion or speaking out on an issue related to your opinion is much different than refusing to do something illegal, or reporting illegal activity.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Vlaude
    That is not how I read into the ruling. Doing something illegal vs an opinion or speaking out on an issue related to your opinion is much different than refusing to do something illegal, or reporting illegal activity.
    I thought that this case was about an assistant district attorney who spoke up to his boss about a possible illegal methods used in obtaining a search warrant - and that then after he spoke up to his boss about it he claimed he was discriminated against.

  10. #10
         
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    I would say if you join up to work the public sector, you're doing just that, working for the public, so of course you can't speak your personal opinions in an official position (unless you're elected to do such a thing). You join the goverement to help govern, you join Nike to sell shoes, not to enforce sweat shops, so if you spoke up against sweatshops it would be something different. Assumably, the goverment follows the mission it's supposed to

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    Imaplanner, ahh my fault. I didn't read the article . Now after reading it I see what you are saying. Yet, there is protocol to handle such situations. What I'm not sure about is, was it fact or opinion. In his line of work it could make it tough to discern between opinion and law. There is a fine line there, as I think you are pointing out. Regardless, whether you are in the private or public sector if you speak out whether right or wrong you will probably be in jeopardy of losing your job or being looked over for promotions. Not sure court rulings can change that. Imaplanner its a fine line, if you are breaking a law its one thing, if not its another. I think APA kind of follows the ruling does it not?

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