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Supreme Court: Work memos aren’t free speech

By Brian | May 30, 2006 | Share on Facebook

The Supreme Court has just ruled that federal employees that report inefficiency or misconduct by their supervisors cannot claim free speech protection to avoid employer discipline.

Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, said:

There is protection for whistle-blowers in federal and state laws and rules of conduct for government attorneys.

When public employees made statement 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.

[To say it did would be] replacing managerial discretion with judicial supervision.

I’m surprised at this ruling. I would think that your right to free speech exists no matter what you’re saying or to whom you’re saying it. That said, I the fact that you have the right to say something, doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed protection from employer discipline.

I know the ruling only applies to federal employees, but it is interesting to extrapolate it to the recent discussions about prosecuting reporters who print classified information (and/or these reporters’ sources). If a federal worker can be punished for accusing his employer of lying, can a phone company employee, for instance, be punished for telling USAToday about an NSA program to collect phone records?

One other thing. The end of the article is another “sign of the times,” I fear:

[Kennedy] was joined by the court’s conservatives – Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

The court’s liberals, Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, dissented.

I don’t follow the Supreme Court all that closely, but that’s the first time I saw a ruling described that way…

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