Court rules no whistle-blower free-speech right
By James Vicini Tue May 30, 4:59 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A closely divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that government whistle-blowers are not protected by free-speech rights when they face employer discipline for trying to expose possible misconduct at work.
By a 5-4 vote, the high court ruled against a California prosecutor who said he was demoted, denied a promotion and transferred for trying to expose a lie by a county sheriff's deputy in a search-warrant affidavit.
Adopting the position of the Los Angeles prosecutor's office and the U.S. Justice Department, the high court ruled that a public employee has no First Amendment right in speech expressed as part of performing job-required duties.
Writing for the court majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said there is protection for whistle-blowers in federal and state laws and rules of conduct for government attorneys.
The case had been closely watched for its affect on the at-work, free-speech rights of the nation's 21 million public employees. About 100 cases involving internal communications are brought each year in federal court.
Steven Shapiro of the American Civil Liberties Union said, "In an age of excessive government secrecy, the Supreme Court has made it easier to engage in a government cover-up by discouraging internal whistle-blowing."
Other ACLU officials predicted the ruling will deter government employees from speaking out about wrongdoing for fear of losing their jobs.
Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Richard Ceballos had sued his employer for retaliating against him for exercising his free-speech rights when he reported suspected wrongdoing in a memo to senior officials in his department.
The justices overturned a ruling by a U.S. appeals court that Ceballos' action was protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution because he was speaking on an issue of public concern.
Kennedy said exposing government inefficiency and misconduct was a matter of considerable significance, and that various measures have been adopted to protect employees and provide checks on supervisors who would order unlawful or inappropriate actions.
"When public employees made statement pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline," he wrote.
JUDICIAL INTRUSION IN THE WORKPLACE?
Kennedy said a ruling for Ceballos would result in a "new, permanent and intrusive role" for the courts in overseeing communications between government workers and their superiors, replacing managerial discretion with judicial supervision.
He was joined by the court's conservatives -- Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
The court's liberals, Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, dissented.
Stevens wrote, "The notion that there is a categorical difference between speaking as a citizen and speaking in the course of one's employment is quite wrong." He called the majority ruling "misguided."
Souter wrote in a separate dissent that government employees who speak out about official wrongdoing should be eligible for First Amendment protection against reprisals.http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060530/ts_nm/court_whistleblowers_dc