Tuesday, May 30, 2006

SCOTUSBlog on the Ceballos Decision

Basically this decision is outrageous, it severely limits the Constitutional rights of whistleblowers and is completely impractical. SCOTUSBLOG has the scoop.
Today, the Court took that very signifiant step, holding 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." This apparently means that employees may be disciplined for their official capacity speech, without any First Amendment scrutiny, and without regard to whether it touches on matters of "public concern" -- a very significant doctrinal development.

Or perhaps not quite. In order to issue such a holding, the Court would have had to distinguish or overrule Givhan v. Western Line Consol. School Dist., 439 U. S. 410, 414 (1979), which provided First Amendment protection to an English teacher who had raised concerns to the principal about racism in her school’s employment practices. Citing Givhan, Justice Kennedy writes that "[t]he First Amendment protects some expressions related to the speaker’s job," even when made within the workplace. But, he argues, "[t]he controlling factor in Ceballos’ case is that his expressions were made pursuant to his duties as a calendar deputy.".

So, it appears that if one's duties are to expose wrongdoing in the workplace, such exposure is entitled to no constitutional protection, but that if an employee whose duties do not involve such whistleblowing makes the exact same complaint, then Pickering/Connick analysis still applies. A somewhat odd result, at least on first glance. And odder still: Under today's opinion, if Mr. Ceballos had written a newspaper article complaining about the wrongdoing in question, rather than taking the matter to his supervisor, he would at least be entitled to whatever constitutiional protection Pickering/Connick offers.

I guess the lesson in all this is that if you have a complaint about your workplace you're better off going to the press than to your employer, great idea Justice Kennedy. Furthermore, Jack Balkin makes the argument that employee whisleblowers are screwed no matter which way they go. If they use internal channels they forfeit their first amendment rights and if they go to the press they become workplace pariahs and will probably have to leave their job anyway.


Abe said...

What was the vote?

Cwech said...