Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Win for Free Speech

Inside Higher Ed
June 20th, 2014

   WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that a community college employee who testified about an Alabama legislator's no-show job had First Amendment protection when he did so. The ruling allows the employee -- whose job was subsequently eliminated -- to pursue a claim that he lost his position in retaliation for his testimony.
   Lower courts had ruled that the employee had no First Amendment protection in such a circumstance. The ruling clarifies that community college employees (and public employees generally) do have First Amendment protection when testifying truthfully under oath. While that is a relatively narrow circumstance in the range of all speech by public college and university employees, advocates for faculty free speech rights were still cheered by the decision. They said any affirmation of public employees' free speech rights is a good thing, and noted some parts of the decision that reaffirmed rights specific to college and university faculty members.
    "It would be antithetical to our jurisprudence to conclude that the very kind of speech necessary to prosecute corruption by public officials -- speech by public employees regarding information learned through their employment -- may never form the basis for a First Amendment retaliation claim," wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in the court's decision. "Such a rule would place public employees who witness corruption in an impossible position, torn between the obligation to testify truthfully and the desire to avoid retaliation and keep their jobs."

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