Public Employees Archives
Board of County Commissioners v. Umbehr (1996) ruled that ending a trash
hauler’s county contract because of his criticism of the board violated his
First Amendment freedoms.
Borough of Duryea v. Guarnieri (2011) addressed the issue of speech and
petition by public employees under the First Amendment. Petitions should
involve a public concern.
Branti v. Finkel (1980) ruled that the First Amendment protects public
employees from dismissal based on their political beliefs. It pitted
workers’ rights against party patronage.
Broadrick v. Oklahoma (1973) held that states can limit their employees’
partisan political activities without violating their First Amendment
City of San Diego v. Roe (2005) refined the “public concern” test when
determining whether a government employee could be fired for their speech
Connick v. Myers (1983) clarified First Amendment protection for public
employees by explaining how courts should balance an employee’s rights
against an employer’s interests.
Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Defense Fund (1985) said excluding some
organizations from soliciting contributions from federal employees didn’t
violate the First Amendment.
The First Amendment-adjacent case Department of Homeland Security v.
MacLean (2015) dealt with the TSA firing an air marshal for whistleblowing
about a hijacking threat.
Elrod v. Burns (1976) said a sheriff violated the First Amendment when he
conditioned the retention of a government job upon membership in a specific
The dissent in Ex parte Curtis (1882), a case involving a form of political
patronage, specifically evoked the First Amendment freedoms of speech,
press, and assembly.
In Garcetti v. Ceballos, the court ruled that the First Amendment does not
apply to speech issued as part of the routine duties of public employees.
In Givhan v. Western Line Consolidated School District, the Court said
public employees do not forfeit First Amendment rights when communicating
privately to a superior.
The Court said in Heffernan v. City of Paterson (2016) that employees can
sue for retaliatory demotion, even if the demotion is based on false First
In Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the Supreme Court ruled that a
coach-led prayer on the 50-yard line did not violate the establishment
clause of the First Amendment.
In Lane v. Franks (2014), the Supreme Court said that the First Amendment
protected a public employee who was terminated after providing truthful
McAuliffe v. Mayor of New Bedford (Mass., 1892) limited a public employee’s
First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court granted more protection to public
employees in the 1960s.
Mount Healthy City School District Board of Education v. Doyle (1977) dealt
with claims that a school teacher was denied tenure for his First
O’Hare Truck Service v. City of Northlake (1996) ruled that retaliation by
government officials against contractors for political associations
violates First Amendment rights.
Pickering v. Board of Education (1968), the seminal case on public
employees’ First Amendment rights, said they do not give up their right to
speak on matters of public importance.
Rankin v. McPherson (1987) ruled that firing a government worker who made a
controversial remark about the Reagan assassination attempt violated her
First Amendment rights.
Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois (1990) said a governor’s order
requiring his approval for all public employee hiring and firing violated
the First Amendment.
Snepp v. United States (1980) said requiring pre-publication review of
books by government employees did not violate the First Amendment rights of
Trusz v. UBS Realty Investors, LLC (Conn. 2015) provided greater First
Amendment protection to public employees under a state constitution than
the U.S. Supreme Court did.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1947 upheld the Hatch Act against a challenge
that it restricted the free speech rights of government employees by
preventing them from taking part in political campaigns. In United Public
Workers v. Mitchell, the Court said the speech rights of public employees
were not absolute.
In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court for a second time upheld the
constitutionality of the Hatch Act against claims that it violated the free
speech rights of government workers. In United States Civil Service
Commission v. National Association of Letter Carriers, the Court explained
the importance of limiting political activities of workers.
U.S. v. National Treasury Employees Union (1995) invalidated an honorarium
ban that was part of ethics reform, saying it restricted First Amendment
rights of government employees.
Waters v. Churchill (1994) looked at the First Amendment rights of public
employees and what should be done when there is a dispute about the nature
of the employee’s speech.