Opinions & Commentaries

The Hatch Act,[*] enacted in 1940, declares unlawful certain specified political activities of federal employees.[1] Section 9 forbids officers and employees in the executive branch of the Federal Government, with exceptions, from taking "any active part in political management or in political campaigns."[2] Section 15 declares that the activities *79 theretofore determined by the United States Civil Service Commission to be prohibited to employees in the classified civil service of the United States by the Civil Service Rules shall be deemed to be prohibited to federal employees covered by the Hatch Act.[3] These sections of the Act cover all federal officers and employees whether in the classified civil service or not and a penalty of dismissal from employment is imposed for violation. There is no designation of a single governmental agency for its enforcement.

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Appellants, faculty members of the State University of New York and a non-faculty employee, brought this action for declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that New York's teacher loyalty laws and regulations are unconstitutional. Their continued employment had been terminated or was threatened when each appellant faculty member refused to comply with a requirement of the University trustees that he certify that he was not a Communist and that, if he had ever been one, he had so advised the university president, and the non-faculty employee refused to state under oath whether he had advocated or been a member of a group which advocated forceful overthrow of the government. Under § 3021 of New York's Education Law, "treasonable or seditious" utterances or acts are grounds for dismissal from the public school system, as well as under § 105, subd. 3, of the Civil Service Law. Other provisions of § 105 of the Civil Service Law disqualify from the civil service or employment in the educational system any person advocating or involved with the distribution of written material which advocates the forceful overthrow of the government. Section 3021 does not define "treasonable or seditious." Section 105, subd. 3, provides that "treasonable word or act" shall mean "treason" as defined in the Penal Law, and "seditious word or act" shall mean "criminal anarchy" as therein defined. Section 3022 (the Feinberg Law) of the Education Law requires the State Board of Regents to issue regulations for the disqualification or removal on loyalty grounds of faculty or other personnel in the state educational system, to make a list of "subversive" organizations, and to provide that membership therein constitutes prima facie evidence of disqualification for employment. The Board listed the National and State Communist Parties as "subversive organizations" under the law, but, shortly before the trial of this case, the university trustees' certificate requirement was rescinded and it was announced that no person would be ineligible for employment "solely" because he refused to sign the certificate, and that §§ 3021 and 3022 of the Education Law and § 105 of the Civil Service Law constituted part of the employment contract. A three-judge District Court sustained the constitutionality of these provisions against appellants' challenges of vagueness and overbreadth and dismissed the complaint. Held: 1. Adler v. Board of Education, 342 U. S. 485, in which this Court upheld some aspects of the New York teacher loyalty plan before its extension to state institutions of higher learning, is not controlling, the vagueness issue presented here involving § 3021 and § 105 not having been decided in Adler, and the validity of the subversive organization membership provision of § 3022 having been upheld for reasons subsequently rejected by this Court. Pp. 385 U. S. 593-595. 2. The rescission of the certificate requirement does not moot this case, as the substance of the statutory and regulatory complex challenged by appellants remains. P. 385 U. S. 596. 3. Section 3021 of the Education Law and § 105, subds. 1(a), 1(b), and 3, of the Civil Service Law, as implemented by the machinery created pursuant to § 3022 of the Education Law, are unconstitutionally vague, since no teacher can know from § 3021 of the Education Law and § 105, subd. 3, of the Civil Service Law what constitutes the boundary between "seditious" and nonseditious utterances and acts, and the other provisions may well prohibit the employment of one who advocates doctrine abstractly, without any attempt to incite others to action, and may be construed to cover mere expression of belief. Pp. 385 U. S. 597-604. (a) These provisions, which have not been interpreted by the New York courts, can have a stifling effect on the "free play of the spirit which all teachers ought especially to cultivate and practice" (Wieman v. Updegraff, 344 U. S. 183, 344 U. S. 195 (concurring opinion)). Pp. 385 U. S. 601-602. (b) Academic freedom is a special concern of the First Amendment, which does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom. P. 385 U. S. 603. (c) The prolixity and profusion of statutes, regulations, and administrative machinery, and manifold cross-references to interrelated enactments and rules aggravate the problem of vagueness of wording. P. 385 U. S. 604. 4. The provisions of the Civil Service Law (§ 105, subd. 1(c)) and the Education Law (§ 3022, subd. 2) which make Communist Party membership, as such, prima facie evidence of disqualification for employment in the public school system are "overbroad," and therefore unconstitutional. Pp. 385 U. S. 605-610. (a) Constitutional doctrine after this Court's upholding of § 3022, subd. 2, in Adler has rejected its major premise that public employment may be conditioned upon the surrender of constitutional rights which could not be abridged by direct government action. P. 385 U. S. 605. (b) Mere knowing membership, without a specific intent to further the unlawful aims of an organization, is not a constitutionally adequate basis for imposing sanctions. Pp. 385 U. S. 606-610. 255 F.Supp. 981, reversed and remanded.

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Appellee, Board of Education, dismissed appellant, a teacher, for writing and publishing in a newspaper a letter criticizing the Board's allocation of school funds between educational and athletic programs and the Board's and superintendent's methods of informing, or preventing the informing of, the school district's taxpayers of the real reasons why additional tax revenues were being sought for the schools. At a hearing, the Board charged that numerous statements in the letter were false, and that the publication of the statements unjustifiably impugned the Board and school administration. The Board found all the statements false as charged, and concluded that publication of the letter was "detrimental to the efficient operation and administration of the schools of the district" and that "the interests of the school require[d] [appellant's dismissal]" under the applicable statute. There was no evidence at the hearing as to the effect of appellant's statements on the community or school administration. The Illinois courts, reviewing the proceedings solely to determine whether the Board's findings were supported by substantial evidence and whether the Board could reasonably conclude that the publication was "detrimental to the best interests of the schools," upheld the dismissal, rejecting appellant's claim that the letter was protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments, on the ground that, as a teacher, he had to refrain from making statements about the schools' operation "which, in the absence of such position, he would have an undoubted right to engage in."

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Respondent was employed in a state college system for 10 years, the last four as a junior college professor under a series of one-year written contracts. The Regents declined to renew his employment for the next year without giving him an explanation or prior hearing. Respondent then brought this action in the District Court, alleging that the decision not to rehire him was based on respondent's public criticism of the college administration, and thus infringed his free speech right, and that the Regents' failure to afford him a hearing violated his procedural due process right. The District Court granted summary judgment for petitioners, concluding that respondent's contract had terminated and the junior college had not adopted the tenure system. The Court of Appeals reversed on the grounds that, despite lack of tenure, nonrenewal of respondent's contract would violate the Fourteenth Amendment if it was in fact, based on his protected free speech, and that, if respondent could show that he had an "expectancy" of reemployment, the failure to allow him an opportunity for a hearing would violate the procedural due process guarantee.

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427 U.S. 347 (1976) ELROD, SHERIFF, ET AL. v. BURNS ET AL. No. 74-1520. Supreme Court of United States. Argued April 19, 1976. Decided June 28, 1976. CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT. *349 Thomas A. Foran argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were Bernard Carey, Paul P. Biebel, Jr., Raymond F. Simon, and Robert E. Wiss. John C. Tucker argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief was David Goldberger.[*] MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion in which MR. JUSTICE […]

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The question presented on this appeal from the Supreme Court of Wisconsin is whether a State may constitutionally require that an elected board of education prohibit teachers, other than union representatives, to speak at open meetings, at which public participation is permitted, if such speech is addressed to the subject of pending collective-bargaining negotiations.

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Respondent, an untenured teacher (who had previously been involved in an altercation with another teacher, an argument with school cafeteria employees, an incident in which he swore at students, and an incident in which he made obscene gestures to girl students), conveyed through a telephone call to a radio station the substance of a memorandum relating to teacher dress and appearance that the school principal had circulated to various teachers. The radio station announced the adoption of the dress code as a news item. Thereafter, petitioner School Board, adopting a recommendation of the superintendent, advised respondent that he would not be rehired, and cited his lack of tact in handling professional matters, with specific mention of the radio station and obscene gesture incidents. Respondent then brought this action against petitioner for reinstatement and damages, claiming that petitioner's refusal to rehire him violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

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Petitioner Bessie Givhan was dismissed from her employment as a junior high English teacher at the end of the 1970-1971 school year.[1] At the time of petitioner's termination, respondent Western Line Consolidated School District was the subject of a desegregation order entered by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi. Petitioner filed a complaint in intervention in the desegregation action, seeking reinstatement on the dual grounds that *412 nonrenewal of her contract violated the rule laid down by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Singleton v. Jackson Municipal Separate School District, 419 F. 2d 1211 (1969), rev'd and remanded sub nom. Carter v. West Feliciana Parish School Board, 396 U. S. 290 (1970), on remand, 425 F. 2d 1211 (1970), and infringed her right of free speech secured by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. In an effort to show that its decision was justified, respondent School District introduced evidence of, among other things,[2] a series of private encounters between petitioner and the school principal in which petitioner allegedly made "petty and unreasonable demands" in a manner variously described by the principal as "insulting," "hostile," "loud," and "arrogant." After a two-day bench trial, the District Court held that petitioner's termination had violated the First Amendment. Finding that petitioner had made "demands" on but two occasions and that those demands *413 "were neither `petty' nor `unreasonable,' insomuch as all the complaints in question involved employment policies and practices at [the] school which [petitioner] conceived to be racially discriminatory in purpose or effect," the District Court concluded that "the primary reason for the school district's failure to renew [petitioner's] contract was her criticism of the policies and practices of the school district, especially the school to which she was assigned to teach." App. to Pet. for Cert. 35a. Accordingly, the District Court held that the dismissal violated petitioner's First Amendment rights, as enunciated in Perry v. Sindermann, 408 U. S. 593 (1972), and Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U. S. 563 (1968), and ordered her reinstatement.

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441 U.S. 463 (1979) SMITH ET AL. v. ARKANSAS STATE HIGHWAY EMPLOYEES, LOCAL 1315, ET AL.         No. 78-1223. Supreme Court of United States.    Decided April 30, 1979. ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT.PER CURIAM.In grievance proceedings initiated by employees of the Arkansas State Highway Department, the State Highway Commission will not consider a grievance unless the employee submits his written complaint directly to the designated employer representative. The District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas found that this procedure denied the union representing […]

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The question presented is whether the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution protect an assistant public defender who is satisfactorily performing his job from discharge solely because of his political beliefs.

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In Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U. S. 563 (1968), we stated that a public employee does not relinquish First Amendment rights to comment on matters of public interest by virtue of government employment. We also recognized that the State's interests as an employer in regulating the speech of its employees "differ significantly from those it possesses in connection with regulation of the speech of the citizenry in general." Id., at 568. The problem, we thought, was arriving "at a balance between the interests of the [employee], as a citizen, in commenting upon matters of public concern and the interest of the State, as an employer, in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees." Ibid. We return to this problem today and consider whether the First and Fourteenth Amendments prevent the discharge of a state employee for circulating a questionnaire concerning internal office affairs.

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The issue in this case is whether a clerical employee in a county Constable's office was properly discharged for remarking, *380 after hearing of an attempt on the life of the President, "If they go for him again, I hope they get him."

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To the victor belong only those spoils that may be constitutionally obtained. Elrod v. Burns, 427 U. S. 347 (1976), and Branti v. Finkel, 445 U. S. 507 (1980), decided that the First Amendment forbids government officials to discharge or threaten to discharge public employees solely for not being supporters of the political party in power, unless party affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the position involved. *65 Today we are asked to decide the constitutionality of several related political patronage practices — whether promotion, transfer, recall, and hiring decisions involving low-level public employees may be constitutionally based on party affiliation and support. We hold that they may not.

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A nurse in the obstetrics unit at a public hospital was fired after she spoke with a nurse who was being recruited to join the unit. According to some witnesses, the nurse spoke inappropriately and negatively about the unit and her supervisor. According to the nurse and other witnesses, she spoke primarily about whether some policies being followed on the unit were diminishing the quality of nursing care. The nurse's supervisors learned of the discussion and fired the nurse after a brief investigation. The nurse sued, complaining that her termination violated the rule set forth by the Court inConnick v. Myers — that a public employee's speech is protected if it involves a matter of public concern and is not disruptive of the employment setting. The district court held that the nurse's speech was not of public concern and dismissed her case. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the speech (if it was as described by the terminated nurse) was of public concern. The court of appeals noted that inquiry must turn on what the speech actually was, and not on what the hospital concluded had been said. In Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138 (1983), the U.S. Supreme Court held that a public employee's speech is protected if it involves a matter of public concern and is not disruptive of the employment setting. The Court, however, had never before been asked to decide a case in which the public employer and employee disagreed about what had been said.

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In 1989, Congress adopted legislation that, among other things, prohibited all governmental employees from receiving compensation for their speaking and writing. Lower level executive branch employees who in the past had received compensation for writing and speaking on subjects unrelated to their employment challenged the law, claiming that it unconstitutionally infringed on their First Amendment rights. The district court and appellate court agreed. In Pickering v. Board of Ed. of Township High School Dist., 391 U.S. 563 (1968), the U.S. Supreme Court held that Congress may impose restraints on job-related speech of public employees, even if these restraints would be unconstitutional if applied to non-public employees. When these restraints are challenged, courts must balance the employee's interest in commenting upon matters of public concern against the government's interest in promoting the efficiency of the public services that it performs through its employees.

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Keen Umbehr had a contract with Wabaunsee County, Kansas, under which he hauled trash for participating cities in the county. While the contract was in force, Mr. Umbehr spoke at county commission meetings and wrote letters and columns in local newspapers concerning, among other things, alleged violations of law and other improprieties by the county commission and its road and bridge department. The county later terminated the hauling contract. Mr. Umbehr filed suit against three of the commissioners, alleging that they had terminated the contract because of his public criticisms and that the termination violated his First Amendment rights. The trial court rejected Mr. Umbehr's claim, holding that the First Amendment did not prohibit the county from considering Mr. Umbehr's statements when it decided to terminate the contract. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. The Court of Appeals recognized that its decision was contrary to cases in other Circuits but it held that the rationales used in the other cases were no longer valid. The First Amendment prevents the government from terminating employees who speak on matters of public concern. Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138 (1983). Governmental workers also are constitutionally protected from dismissal for supporting or affiliating with a political party, unless such affiliation reasonably can be considered an appropriate job qualification. Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507 (1980); Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347 (1976). To prevail in an unlawful termination claim, the employee must show that the protected conduct was a substantial or motivating factor in the termination. Even upon such a showing, the government can prevail if it can show that it would have taken the same action absent the protected conduct or if sufficiently strong countervailing governmental interests exist. Mt. Healthy City Bd. of Education v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274 (1977);Pickering v. Board of Education of Township High School Dist., 391 U.S. 563 (1968).

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O'Hare Truck Service had provided towing services for the City of Northlake, Illinois, since 1965. In 1993, the mayor of Northlake, who was seeking reelection, asked O'Hare for a campaign contribution. O'Hare refused and instead publicly supported the mayor's opponent. Shortly thereafter, O'Hare was removed from the list of towing services used by Northlake. O'Hare sued in federal court, alleging that Northlake had violated its First Amendment rights. The district court dismissed the complaint, and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the First Amendment protections available to governmental employees did not extend to independent contractors. The First Amendment prevents the government from terminating employees who speak on matters of public concern. Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138 (1983). Governmental workers also are constitutionally protected from dismissal for supporting or affiliating with a political party, unless such affiliation reasonably can be considered an appropriate job qualification. Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507 (1980); Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347 (1976). To prevail in an unlawful termination claim, the employee must show that the protected conduct was a substantial or motivating factor in the termination. Even upon such a showing, the government can prevail if it can show that it would have taken the same action absent the protected conduct or if sufficiently strong countervailing governmental interests exist. Mt. Healthy City Bd. of Education v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274 (1977);Pickering v. Board of Education of Township High School Dist., 391 U.S. 563 (1968).

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It is well settled that "a State cannot condition public employment on a basis that infringes the employee's constitutionally protected interest in freedom of expression." Connick v. Myers, 461 U. S. 138, 142 (1983). The question presented by the instant case is whether the First Amendment protects a government employee from discipline based on speech made pursuant to the employee's official duties.

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As Director of Community Intensive Training for Youth (CITY), a program for underprivileged youth operated by Central Alabama Community College (CACC), petitioner Edward Lane conducted an audit of the program’s expenses and discovered that Suzanne Schmitz, an Alabama State Representative on CITY’s payroll, had not been reporting for work. Lane eventually terminated Schmitz’ employment. Shortly thereafter, federal authorities indicted Schmitz on charges of mail fraud and theft concerning a program receiving federal funds. Lane testified, under subpoena, regarding the events that led to his terminating Schmitz. Schmitz was convicted and sentenced to 30 months in prison. Meanwhile, CITY was experiencing significant budget shortfalls. Respondent Franks, then CACC’s president, terminated Lane along with 28 other employees in a claimed effort to address the financial difficulties. A few days later, however, Franks rescinded all but 2 of the 29 terminations—those of Lane and one other employee. Lane sued Franks in his individual and official capacities under 42 U. S. C. §1983, alleging that Franks had violated the First Amendment by firing him in retaliation for testifying against Schmitz.

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