The Supreme Court ruled in favor of an officer whose department demoted him after they incorrectly surmised that he was campaigning for a challenger to the current mayor.
In a 6:2 ruling, the court determined that the First Amendment rights of Police Officer Jeffrey were in fact violated by former Chief James Wittig.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer noted that the case was rather unusual considering that Heffernan wasn’t actually exercising his right to free speech, but was instead picking up a campaign sign on behalf of his bedridden mother.
According to the Washington Post, while lower courts had thrown out the case due to the fact that Heffernan wasn’t actually campaigning, Breyer said that the reason the Supreme Court took the case was due to the fact that the loyalty of the police chief was with the incumbent mayor.
“The government’s reason for demoting Heffernan is what counts here,” Breyer wrote. “When an employer demotes an employee out of a desire to prevent the employee from engaging in political activity that the First Amendment protects, the employee is entitled to challenge that unlawful action.”
With a few exceptions, the Constitution protects an employee’s freedom to engage in political activities.
According to Breyer, “The constitutional harm at issue in the ordinary case consists in large part of discouraging employees-both the employee discharged (or demoted) and his or her colleagues-from engaging in protected activities. The discharge of one tells the others that they engage in protected activity at their peril.”
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