New Jersey police officer wins free speech ruling in Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-2 that a police officer could sue Paterson, New Jersey for an alleged violation of his First Amendment rights after he was demoted after he was wrongly believed to be involved in a political campaign. The officer had picked up a campaign sign for his mother and was not a part of any campaign. (The New York Times, April 26, 2016, by The Associated Press)

In spite of the fact that the officer was not engaging in politics, writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Breyer said that demotion was an attack on the First Amendment: “The Constitution prohibits a government employee from discharging or demoting an employee because the employee supports a particular political candidate,” wrote Breyer. The employer’s motive was of critical importance overshadowing the fact that the employee was not actually engaged in the campaign.  (Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2016, by David G. Savage)

Officer Jeffrey Heffernan lost in two lower courts with the rulings holding that the city was wrong but did not violate the First Amendment since he had not actually spoken or associated himself with the campaign. (USA TODAY, April 26, 2016, by Richard Wolf)