Frost, Heffernan’s lawyer, gets off to a bumpy start this morning when Justice Anthony Kennedy asks him almost immediately how he would “define the right at issue in this case.” Frost tries to explain that there is a right to not be demoted for perceived political associations, but Roberts cuts him short: “Well, but the First Amendment talks about abridging freedom of speech, and I thought the case came to us on the proposition that he wasn't engaging in speech at all. That he was not engaging in association, he was not engaging in trying to convey a message, he was just picking up a sign for his mother.”We'll have to wait for the verdict, but right now it seems that there is no constitutionally protected right to engage in carrying a yard sign for your mother.
Justice Antonin Scalia tags in: “He was not expressing any First Amendment view whatever. I mean, he was fired for the wrong reason, but there’s no constitutional right not to be fired for the wrong reason.”
Sunday, January 24, 2016
Does the First Amendment Protect You from Mistakes?
Back in 2006, police detective Jeffrey Heffernan of Paterson, New Jersey, was seen carrying around a yard sign for a candidate in the mayoral election. The candidate of that sign lost, and after the election Heffernan was demoted to beat cop. He sued. A jury awarded him $105,000, but the judge vacated the verdict, and an appeals court agreed. After all, Heffernan hadn't actually been exercising his First Amendment rights. He was only mistakenly thought to be exercising his First Amendment rights, and the constitution doesn't say anything at all about that. The issue was argued in the Supreme Court this week: