U.S. Supreme Court

SCOTUS considers free-speech rights for officer demoted for presumed political views

Justice Elena Kagan on Tuesday expressed skepticism about the legal theory advanced by the city of Paterson, New Jersey, in the case of an officer demoted based on the mistaken belief that he supported the mayor’s political opponent.

Paterson’s lawyer, SCOTUSblog founder Thomas Goldstein, argued there was no First Amendment violation because police officer Jeffrey Heffernan wasn’t actually making a political statement of his own when he picked up a political sign for his mother. Though the First Amendment protects public employees for supporting a political candidate, it doesn’t protect Heffernan because he wasn’t expressing support, the city contends.

Kagan was skeptical. That’s “one strange doctrine,” she asserted. The Washington Post, USA Today, the Record and the National Law Journal (sub. req.) have coverage of the arguments.

Goldstein’s response was tactful, according to the National Law Journal account. “It may be that I have not persuaded you in this case,” he said.

Kagan and the court’s three other liberals appeared to side with the police officer, while conservatives appeared to support the city, the Washington Post reports. The outcome could depend on Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who “seemed skeptical of the city’s arguments,” according to the Record.

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