Case is Vital to Preserve First Amendment Rights for Government Workers

Tomorrow, March 21, the Supreme Court will rehear arguments in Garcetti v. Ceballos, a case that is vital to the preservation of free speech rights for all public employees. GAP urges the court to rule in favor of Richard Ceballos, and thereby maintain the free speech rights of government employees while performing job duties.

Garcetti v. Ceballos was originally heard before the Supreme Court last October, but the court decided last month to rehear the case. Experts have speculated that the decision to reargue the case is due to a 4-4 tie on the decision, as former Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s viewpoint on the case no longer counts in decisions. Newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito will likely cast the deciding vote on the case.

“Free speech about the manner in which the government operates is the hallmark of democracy,” stated GAP General Counsel Joanne Royce. “Government employees are the most knowledgeable about operations, and it is paramount for these employees to be protected for speaking the truth when that speech is part of their job duties. For example, in regard to national security threats, it is imperative that the law protect government employees who alert the public to government wrongdoing or incompetence that leaves our country exposed.”

Richard Ceballos is a former deputy district attorney in Los Angeles County. After discovering that a deputy sheriff lied to obtain a search warrant, Ceballos advised his superiors of the wrongdoing, and recommended that the county drop its case. His recommendation was ignored, and his superiors demanded that the prosecution continue. Ceballos then informed the defense of his findings, as required by law. Despite the fact he acted in a lawful fashion, Ceballos was removed from the case, demoted, and transferred to a different office. Ceballos’ actions are a shining example of how government workers should act – he exposed a gross violation of the American justice system.

“Without conscientious government employees identifying and reporting government mismanagement and wrongdoing, no bureaucracy is safe from corruption,” added Royce.

GAP Legal Director Tom Devine commented, “Normally First Amendment cases are about the right to criticize the government as a private citizen. The stakes here are far higher. This is the moment of truth for freedom of duty speech, the communications necessary for government’s checks and balances to function before avoidable disasters or public scandals. To keep government honest, it must be on an even higher pedestal of protection than the constitutional right to be a critic outside of job responsibilities.”

Devine noted that last week, the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui was nearly canceled because of misconduct by a government lawyer, the same type of abuse Ceballos was challenging. “Hopefully the Supreme Court won’t strip anti-retaliation rights for government workers like those who stopped the misconduct that almost killed the Moussaoui case last week,” Devine added.

GAP, noting that the current federal whistleblower law does not cover job-related speech, has been an outspoken advocate of Ceballos’ cause. An October 2005 New York Times op-ed coauthored by GAP Communications Director Dylan Blaylock and FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley highlighted the need for the Supreme Court to protect the first amendment rights of public employee whistleblowers with this case.

GAP also submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on July 22, 2005.